Those who thought last year wasn’t great for New Jersey’s job market may find 2014 will be worse.

This is according to a Rutgers University forecast released Friday predicting 2014 job creation will be about half that of last year.

Nancy Mantell, director of the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service, said it will take four more years for New Jersey to return to peak employment levels last seen at the onset of the recession in 2008.

“The economy will be growing, but it’s growing slowly and there doesn’t seem to be anything anybody can do about it,” she said.

Mantell predicts New Jersey will add about 24,400 jobs this year, about half the 44,800 non-agriculture jobs added in 2013.

A slow first quarter — driven by bad weather and a still shaky economy — hurt the yearly job outlook, she said.

The Rutgers forecast expects “moderate” job growth over the next three years, but New Jersey still faces a slower recovery than in Pennsylvania, New York and the U.S. average, she said.

“I can’t figure out why New Jersey’s having such a rough time,” she said.

Pennsylvania has an improving manufacturing segment, and New York is home to large financial and information sectors experiencing post-recession comebacks, she said.

In New Jersey, Mantell cited difficulties in several industries, including falling employment in Atlantic City’s gambling industry.

Throughout Atlantic County, there were 4,200 fewer leisure and hospitality jobs in March than one year ago, according to Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia data.

Mantell noted that a real concern in New Jersey is that the unemployment rate has fallen primarily due to residents who have stopped looking for jobs.

That has been a factor in some local counties as well, as the overall labor pool contracted in Atlantic and Cumberland counties as unemployment rates also ticked down.

March seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were 11.6 percent in both counties, about one percentage point lower than a year ago.

In that time, Atlantic County’s labor pool — including those working and others officially counted as unemployed — shrank by 5,400, according to state Department of Labor & Workforce Development data.

In Cumberland County, the labor pool shrank by about 1,600.

Cape May County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in March was 11.1 percent, compared to 12.7 percent a year ago, Federal Reserve data says.

Cape May County saw job growth through trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Leisure and hospitality jobs in Cape May County were flat compared to the previous year.

Overall, its labor pool increased by about 1,700 in the past year, according to state data.

Contact Brian Ianieri:

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