The good news first: June employment grew in 21 of 24 statistical areas in the tri-state region from one year ago, according to new seasonally adjusted data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Now the bad news: Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties were the other three.

The figures underscored the region’s lagging jobs picture as the U.S. Labor Department on Friday said employers nationwide added 162,000 jobs in July. That was the fewest since March — and less than expected — but the gains were enough to lower the unemployment rate to a 4½-year low of 7.4 percent.

“You need that job growth at 200,000 or more to get the unemployment rate coming down consistently, and we’re not there yet,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa., and owner of a home in Margate.

As slow as the national recovery has been, the southern New Jersey one has been much slower.

Regional employment has dropped in the past year, particularly as Atlantic City’s casino industry faces continued and daunting opposition from neighboring states.

Seasonally adjusted payroll employment numbers from June show Atlantic County lost a combined 2,800 jobs since June 2012, a 2 percent decline, according to data the Philadelphia Fed released Thursday.

That was driven by major losses in the leisure and hospitality sector, which accounted for nearly 6,200 fewer jobs than a year ago. Job growth in some sectors like trade, transportation and utilities lessened the blow.

The unemployment rate in Atlantic County dropped to 13 percent in June, from 13.3 percent a year ago, a factor influenced by discouraged unemployed people stopping job searches and no longer counted as unemployed.

In Cape May County, there were 2,000 fewer jobs than in June 2012, a nearly 4 percent decline, the Philadelphia Fed said. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate also dropped — to 13.2 percent from 13.4 percent.

In Cumberland County, there were 500 fewer employed workers compared to June 2012. At less than 1 percent, the loss is considered statistically insignificant. The unemployment rate there fell to 13.3 percent, a drop of 1 percentage point from a year ago.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Fed said nonfarm payroll increased in 21 other metropolitan areas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

In the U.S., payroll employment in June increased 1.7 percent in the year, with most of the 21 metro areas close to that increase.

One of the biggest growth areas was the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area, where employment grew at 3.2 percent. Of those gains, nearly 34 percent were in leisure and hospitality in that geographic area, which includes Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem.

Nationally, the U.S. Labor Department report on Friday indicated the economy was creating jobs, but not at the pace that was expected. Meanwhile, Americans worked fewer hours in July, and their average pay dipped. The figures suggest that weak economic growth might be making businesses cautious about hiring.

For the year, job growth remains solid. The economy has created an average 200,000 jobs a month since January. But the pace has slowed in the past three months to 175,000.

“A clearly weaker-than-expected report, but one should not overstate it — the unemployment rate continues to trend down and average job growth of 175,000 will be more than enough to continue to push it lower,” Peter Newland, an economist at Barclays Capital, said in a note to clients.

The Federal Reserve will review the July employment data in deciding whether to slow its $85 billion a month in bond purchases in September, as many economists have predicted it will do.

Weaker hiring could make the Fed hold off on any pullback in bond buying, which has helped keep long-term borrowing costs down.  Yet it’s possible that the lower unemployment rate, along with the steady job gains the past year, will convince the Fed that the job market is strengthening consistently.

“While July itself was a bit disappointing, the Fed will be looking at the cumulative improvement,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “On that score, the unemployment rate has fallen from 8.1 percent last August, to 7.4 percent this July, which is a significant improvement.”

But Beth Ann Bovino, senior economist at Standard & Poor’s, said she thinks Friday’s job report will make the Fed delay any slowing in its bond purchases.

“September seems very unlikely now,” she says.  “I’m wondering if December is still in the cards.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Brian Ianieri:

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