New Jersey’s job picture hit several unwelcome milestones in 2012, particularly in August, when the state’s unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent, the highest in 35 years.
Local economists anticipate slow growth at best in 2013, with potential for downswings if Atlantic City’s casino industry continues its slide.
Meanwhile, some unemployed residents say they are eager to see things turn around.
“I try to be as optimistic as possible when I’m looking at forecasts. It’s just very difficult to be optimistic for next year,” said Michael Busler, a business professor at Richard Stockton College and a fellow at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.
This year has been one of the most difficult for economists to forecast, Busler said.
There are a host of uncertainties nationally and in South Jersey: the effects of potential federal tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff, how Atlantic City responds to 2012’s declining revenue, and whether Hurricane Sandy will affect summer tourism.
A panel of the National Association for Business Economics recently projected national unemployment next year would average 7.7 percent, which is what it was in November.
“In the national economy, there are a lot of variables, and the consensus view is we’re not going to get a lot of growth next year,” Busler said. “With regard to the local economy, things may be a little bleaker.”
In Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean counties, 61,600 people were counted as unemployed in October, compared with 24,400 five years ago, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College, said one bright spot is the region’s second-home owners and retirees, who are not as affected by unemployment.
“In terms of employment overall, you hope we can get a little more slow growth, but certainly we hope we can hold our own in 2013,” he said.
Perniciaro said he does not expect Atlantic City’s casinos to add much to the region’s employment figures.
“If there’s a turnaround in the casino industry, I don’t see it as an employment turnaround. You kind of hope they stabilize and grow noncasino revenues. I don’t think that’s going to generate a whole lot of employment,” he said. “The only way you’ll get real employment gains is new casinos or one of the poorly performing casinos gets bought and someone turns it around into a high-performing casino.”
Margate resident J. Monroe Palzer, 37, hopes for a brighter local economy in 2013.
Palzer, 37, said he was laid off in December from his longtime job with a fire and water restoration company, after a rush of work and 70-hour workweeks from Hurricane Sandy-related repairs.
“Then I was told we can’t use you anymore,” he said. “I’m the kind of guy who wants to work all the time. I can’t stand sitting at home. It makes me happy to support my family and my kids, and it’s scary. I really do hope it (the economy) gets better.”
Mike Jones, 52, of Atlantic City, said he was laid off from his casino restaurant job early in December and was told it would be temporary. A casino veteran for 19 years, Jones said he sees nongambling attractions as key to Atlantic City’s fortunes, as well as an improved economy along the East Coast.
“I just know things have been tight. I live in Atlantic City, and you can feel it. I don’t know how to explain it. People have the look,” he said. “Some people are not working the hours they usually work or working cut hours.”
Edgar Montero, 37, of Atlantic City, was laid off in December on the same day the Ventnor retail store where he worked reopened after rebuilding from storm damage.
“I’d hope there’d be more jobs out there,” he said.
Richard VanDyke, 54, of Atlantic City, has been looking for a job for a year. He sees little hope for a brighter 2013.
“2012 was bad, but I think 2013 will be even worse. I don’t see any improvement in the economy or the job market,” he said. “I just don’t see any pulling out of it in the next year or two.”
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