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There may be various theories about New Jersey’s improving economic climate, but for Barbara Buono, the state’s unemployment rate is the real story.
Unemployment nationwide and in neighboring states seems to be improving, so why is New Jersey’s unemployment rate stagnant, Buono asked recently.
"While the United States has seen its unemployment rate steadily decline, New Jersey’s remains nearly two percent higher than the national average and more than a point higher than Connecticut and New York, " she said in response to a state Labor Department employment report released March 18.
There are differing opinions about how unemployment should be measured but based strictly on the unemployment rate, Buono’s three points appear to be valid.
Before reviewing the three elements of Buono’s statement, let’s define some important details.
First, we need to know how to measure unemployment.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics spokeswoman Stacey Standish said it’s best to look at the unemployment rate versus the number of jobs because the rate takes population into account.
A disproportion becomes evident when citing geographically different areas because the number of jobs lost is going to be higher in the area with a denser population, she said.
"The unemployment rate is a better measure," Standish said.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, disputed the value of comparing rates. He said the state looks at a business survey to get a broader picture of unemployment, while the BLS uses a monthly household survey to assess unemployment and determine the rate.
"What jobs were added, where were jobs added, in what sectors," Roberts said about the business survey. "You can drill down and get a much better composite picture of what’s happening in the state, rather than the unemployment rate."
Now let’s look at Buono’s statement.
The national unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in February 2010. It briefly climbed to 9.9 percent but then trended downward, lingering at 9 percent for six months of 2011. By February of this year it had fallen to 7.7 percent. So Buono is right that the U.S. unemployment rate has declined steadily.
Next, is New Jersey’s unemployment rate nearly 2 percent higher than the nation’s? It is, but only since about July 2012, according to BLS data.
Finally, how does New Jersey’s unemployment rate stack up against Connecticut’s and New York’s?
Buono for Governor spokesman David Turner said Buono’s remarks cover the timeframe that Christie has been in office. Accordingly, we reviewed BLS data going back to February 2010 – Christie’s first full month in office.
BLS data shows that New Jersey’s unemployment rate was at least 1 percent higher than Connecticut’s rate throughout 2012 and this past January.
New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 1 percent higher than New York’s for a 22-month period from February 2010 to this past January.
Here’s a breakdown of unemployment rates for the three states:
New Jersey’s rate was 9.7 percent in February 2010 and 9.5 percent this past January.
Connecticut’s was 9.2 percent in February 2010 and 8.1 percent in January.
New York’s was 8.1 percent in February 2010 and 8.4 percent in January.
In response to unemployment numbers released in January by the state Department of Labor, Buono said, "While the United States has seen its unemployment rate steadily decline, New Jersey’s remains nearly two percent higher than the national average and more than a point higher than Connecticut and New York."
Buono has varying degrees of accuracy on her three points, looking strictly at unemployment rate: the national unemployment rate has declined steadily while Christie’s been governor; the country’s unemployment rate has been nearly 2 percent below New Jersey’s, but only for about six months; and New Jersey’s unemployment rate has been more than 1 percent higher than New York’s and Connecticut’s for the bulk of the time Christie has been in office.
Given the varying degrees of accuracy, as well as the state measuring unemployment differently from the BLS, we rate Buono’s claim Mostly True.
To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.
The Star-Ledger, Jobless rate steady despite 2,600 hires, March 19, 2013, accessed March 26, 2013
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website unemployment data tables for nation, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York, accessed March 26, 2013
Phone interview with Stacey Standish, spokeswoman, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 26, 2013
Phone and e-mail interviews with Kevin Roberts, spokesman, Gov. Chris Christie’s office, March 27, 2013
E-mail interview with Brian Murray, spokesman, New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce
Development, March 26 and 27, 2013
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