Rutgers University's leading economic analysts have taken another look at New Jersey and have found a much more reassuring picture.
James W. Hughes, dean of the university's Bloustein School, and his professor partner, Joseph Seneca, say in their latest research paper that the state's recovery is accelerating and employment should be back to normal by 2015 - a long way off, but two years sooner than previously expected.
There is almost a tone of relief to their paper, "2013: The New Jersey Employment Expansion Gains Momentum," which they prepared for the N.J. League of Municipalities Educational Foundation.
The new work follows a series of similar and much grimmer papers in the League's Friends of Local Government Series that together chart the worst economic downturn in our lifetimes, including: "From Wall Street to Main Street, 2009: Unprecedented Economic Challenges" … "2010: A Stabilizing Economy but Uncertainty Remains" … "2011: Economic Growth, but Slowdowns Persist" … and "2012: New Jersey Employment Upswing? Or Will It Succumb to the National Slowdown?"
The qualifiers remain in the latest report but are more subdued, and the news on jobs has gotten solid.
"Recent job growth by far surpasses that of the expansion years of the 2000s, and is starting to resemble that of the expansion years of the 1990s," the report says. "But, there is still a ways to go before full employment recovery is achieved."
Hughes and Seneca outline just how deep a hole the state is escaping, to explain why cumulative private-sector employment losses since the recession remain quite substantial.
By the end of the severe U.S. recession in June 2009, the state had lost 207,900 jobs in just 18 months.
When the job destruction finally bottomed in February 2010, New Jersey had suffered a net loss of 240,600 jobs. "At that point, New Jersey was seemingly stuck in an economic death valley," they say.
Since then, the state has had 39 months of increasing employment, much of it disappointingly feeble and less than that seen by the nation as a whole.
So while the U.S. has recovered 79 percent of its lost jobs, New Jersey has gotten back only 60 percent of them.
Hughes and Seneca point out two factors among those responsible for the disparity: New Jersey didn't benefit much from the massive federal rescue of the automobile industry, because our last car plants closed several years ago; and the state's slow population growth hasn't contributed as much to job creation.
But now, the report says, "the magnitude of the job recovery has started to gain critical mass." Each of the past four years has seen more private-sector employment growth than the one before it, and the same is highly likely this year.
This being an election year, the state Republicans quickly made the improved outlook part of their campaign to re-elect Gov. Chris Christie.
"This report clearly indicates that our state's economic recovery is real and the governor's policies are working," Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick said in a statement issued the past week.
For their part, Democrats have long said and no doubt will continue to say New Jersey's recovery lagging that of the nation is evidence to the contrary.
The more important lagging, I think, is the southern-most counties not recovering even at the state's pace, let alone the nation's.
The evidence is still less than convincing that Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties have hit bottom.
Let's hope people elsewhere enjoying the recovery decide to spend a little money at this shore this year.
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