WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
New Jersey's unemployment rate jumped from 9.6 to 9.8 percent in July, a level not seen since the 1970s according to the state's Department of Labor. The latest number is being used by Democrats to counter Gov. Chris Christie's claim the state is on a "comeback."
Democratic state Senator Barbara Buono says the most recent jobs number is proof that Christie’s Jersey "comeback" is a myth. She notes the state's unemployment is now 1.5 percent higher than the national average, a rate not seen in 30 years.
"We lost 12,000 jobs while the nation was gaining jobs," Buono told WNYC. New Jersey lost 7,100 private sector jobs and 4,900 public sector jobs in July, according to the state's Department of Labor.
In response to the latest job figures, a spokesman for the governor said under Christie's tenure the state has added tens of thousands of new private sector jobs. He also noted that Christie needs Democrats to support his proposal to cut income taxes by 10 percent, which would send a pro-business signal. Democrats counter the will only sign off on a tax cut if the state revenue picture supports it.
Since 2010, the state had been adding new private sector jobs at an increasing, albeit anemic, pace. In 2011, the state booked 33,000 new jobs. The most robust job growth since 2000 occurred between April and June 2012 in the state.
But Buono said the loss of jobs further undermines the state's tax revenue picture, which also puts pressure on Christie’s comeback. Buono released a memo from the state's non-partisan Office of Legislative Services that indicated that as of August state tax revenues were running more than a half-billion dollars behind projections.
According to a report released by the Treasury Department late Thursday, the state posted a 2.5 percent increase in revenue in July 2012 over 2011 but was still running 5.5 percent behind projections.
A spokesman for the state's Treasury Department said the agency would release the latest revenue numbers Thursday.
James Hughes, an economist and dean of Rutgers' Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, admits the numbers are discouraging, but adds they should be put in a national context.
Hughes says businesses are anxious about how Washington is going to handle the so-called fiscal cliff — that’s when Bush-era tax cuts expire at the same time proposed automatic, across the board cuts in federal spending occur.
"That's put a gridlock on [business owners] decision-making. They are postponing hiring, they are postponing capital investment until they get some certainty," Hughes told WNYC.
The disappointing job numbers come as Christie prepares his keynote address for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. He is expected to use his record in New Jersey to make the case for the Romney-Ryan ticket.