Macroeconomics

Despite job losses, New Jersey’s labor market looks vibrant rather than sclerotic.

Regional and State statistics on employment and unemployment for the month of July 2015 looked motionless for the great majority of States in terms of over-the-month changes. Over-the-year though, nonfarm employment increased in 47 states and deceased in 2. In terms of employment levels, the greatest over-the-month increases were seen in California (+80,700), Texas (+31,400) and Florida (+30,500); while percentage wise, greatest increases were in Wyoming (+0.9 percent), Oklahoma (+0.7 percent), and Rhode Island (+0.7 percent). It is worth noting that a year ago, Rhode Island had an unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, while California’s was about 7.4 percent. Today, those two states reported unemployment rates of 5.8 percent (Rhode Island) while California recorded 6.2 percent.

Unemployment Rate July 2015.

Unemployment Rate July 2015.

Otherwise, declines in employment levels were statistically significant in North Dakota (-0.5 percent), Hawaii, Kansas, New Jersey, and West Virginia with -0.3 percent decline each. West Virginia noted an increase of 1 percent point and registered an unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. Both Dakotas also showed increases in Unemployment rate.

The challenging aspects for the analysis this time stem from the data coming out from New Jersey, Kansas and Louisiana. These three states showed decreases in employment level from June to July 2015. New Jersey’s level of employment decreased by -13,600 jobs, while Louisiana and Kansas did so also by -4,500 and -4,300 respectively. Given that the declines happened during the summer season, they all beg the question on whether those job losses were quits or separations.

When it comes to labor markets, employment levels can have negative variation for two reasons. First, firms may stop hiring new employees and further start firing the current ones. Second, employees may quite their jobs. In order to be accurate, it is key for the analysts to determining under what circumstances the drop in the statistic happened. The most expedited way to find out, whether the job losses were on the firm’s end or on the employee’s end, used to be by looking at Massive Layoff data from the BLS. However, the Massive Layoff program ended since the budget cuts fights in 2013 between Republicans and Democrats.

So, going back to New Jersey’s employment level data for the month of July 2015, intuitively it is hard to believe that a job drop happened in the state during the summer, which only has happened 13 times in almost 40 years –five of which happened since the Great Recession Started-, and it has done so mostly during economic recessions. So, particularly in the case of New Jersey, the question about quits versus separations begs an answer.

New Jersey's Level of Employment Change June-July 1076-2015.

New Jersey’s Level of Employment Change June-July 1976-2015.

Given that there is not Massive Layoff data available, one way to scratch the surface of what is going on in the State’s labor market is by looking at its output and current economic conditions. Indeed, the southern part of the state -Lehigh Valley and the Southern Jersey Shore- have seen a slowdown in real estate markets. The region, which is covered by the Eleven District of Philadelphia at the Federal Reserve System, has experienced moderate to positive changes in the economy through the second quarter of 2015. In particular, regionally speaking, auto-dealers have seen flat sales during the summer. Home builders also reported little change in activity for the same period. Likewise, and although manufacturing picked a bit up, food products, primary metals and electronic products have seen sales decreases. Similarly, staffing firms reported slowdowns as well as trucking activity showed signs of weakness.

Apparently, there is no drama when it comes to assess the current economic condition of the region. Besides the industries cited above, every other sector reported moderate improvements. Thus, the overall economic conditions of the state are not that bad so as to expect such a drop in employment levels. In fact, the State Unemployment Rate has declined since 2009 to 6.5 percent. Right after the Great Recession started, New Jersey’s Unemployment rate was over 9 percent. Even though the state’s labor market recovery appears to be slow, it also looks steady. Therefore, what seems feasible to interpret under the current circumstances is that New Jersey’s labor market looks vibrant rather than sclerotic. That is, workers in New Jersey quitted their job for better opportunities elsewhere.

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