NJ jobless rate continues climbing, hits 8.2 percent

March 25, 2009 5:28:32 PM PDT
New Jersey's jobless rate continued to climb last month, surpassing the national rate for the first time in two years and keeping the state firmly entrenched in the global recession, according to analysts. February's unemployment rate of 8.2 percent was nearly a full percentage point above January's rate, according to the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which released the figures Wednesday.

It was the 13th straight month New Jersey shed jobs, pushing the state's jobless rate just above the national rate of 8.1 percent.

"These are dismal numbers," said Rutgers University Professor Joseph Seneca, of the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. "New Jersey's economy is fully engulfed by the national recession."

Job losses were heaviest in professional and business services, manufacturing and construction, according to the state. Education and health services had the only significant job growth, but most industries shed workers.

A soaring number of unemployment claims has helped empty the state's unemployment insurance fund, a key source of help for jobless New Jerseyans. It's also been depleted over the years by lawmakers raiding the fund for other programs.

State Labor Commissioner David Socolow said the state has borrowed $185 million this month from the federal government to make its unemployment payments. A provision in the federal stimulus package makes the loans interest free, he said.

The stimulus plan, which President Obama signed into law last month, provides other sources of help for the out-of-work. Among other things, it adds $25 to weekly unemployment checks, pumps money into job training and extends unemployment benefits periods, Socolow said.

New Jerseyans are not the only ones who need this help; altogether, the country has lost an average of 600,000 jobs a month for the last four months, said Seneca of Rutgers University.

Nevertheless, some people still think the U.S. has ample job opportunity.

Bonnie O'Brien, president of Placement Professionals, a staffing agency in Hackensack, said she receives at least five resumes a day from people outside the country, mainly in India, Pakistan and Africa.

They primarily want software programming and accounting jobs.

"It is very weird," she said.

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