New Jersey lost 2,600 jobs in March and its unemployment rate remained steady at 3.5%, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday, in a sign that the Garden State’s torrid job growth could be slowing down.
Even as some employers put on the brakes, however, others continue to expand in the state, showing that the picture of a post-pandemic economy remains mixed.
“We’re super bullish,” said Jeff Van Wie, general manager of Slalom, a Seattle-based consulting company that opened an office in New Brunswick on Wednesday with 200 employees. “The amount of opportunity we see with the clients that are here, we feel — for us — the business is going to keep growing.”
The monthly jobs report is from a survey of New Jersey employers that measures the number of jobs and a survey of households that measures the unemployment rate. It is a preliminary look that will be revised next month and again next year.
The March report was a snapshot from a month that saw two regional banks fail and the Federal Reserve Board raise interest rates for the ninth time in a year. The Fed is trying to slow down the economy and rein in inflation.
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Economists have said it will be difficult for the Fed to avoid putting the economy into a brief recession.
The New Jersey job market seems to be slowing. Last year, it added nearly 130,000 jobs. For the first three months of this year, it added 13,700 jobs, according to the state, putting it on pace for an annual gain of 54,800 jobs.
In March, the leisure and hospitality industry continued its comeback from the pandemic by adding 2,100 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities, and the information sector added 400 jobs each.
Professional and business services, which includes technology jobs, lost 3,500 jobs last month.
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Fewer dollars available to loan?
The economy and job market could continue to cool. New Jersey community banks seem to have averted the worst-case scenario caused by the recent failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, but they are preparing for a slowdown in lending, a bank executive said this week.
Christopher Maher, chair of the New Jersey Bankers Association, said consumers nationwide moved some $300 billion in deposits from community banks to giant banks in the aftermath of the failures, leaving local banks with less money to lend to Main Street.
The impact on New Jersey bank deposits isn’t yet clear. But “when you move $300 billion, you’re going to reduce credit availability in some areas,” said Maher, who also is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Toms River-based OceanFirst Financial Corp.
Still, OceanFirst on Thursday reported that its deposits during the first quarter fell less than 1% and it was well positioned to navigate the uncertain economy.
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Still looking for workers
Meanwhile, with a persistent labor shortage, some employers continue to need workers.
Monmouth County’s Department of Public Works and Engineering is searching for bridge construction workers, mechanics and tree maintenance workers. It is hosting a job fair on April 29 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Division of Bridges office, 250 Center St., in Freehold.
And Slalom’s new office in New Brunswick could be seen as an endorsement of the state’s economy.
The consulting firm, drawn to New Jersey’s broad base of industries, from pharmaceutical companies to financial services firms, has seen its practice here grow from 95 employees to more than 200 in three years, Van Wie said.
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It is part of the company’s strategy to open offices close to its clients so that employees don’t have to travel far.
While Van Wie said the company isn’t in hiring mode now, it hopes to double employment in the state in the next three years.
“Are we hiring more? No. But do we have plans to? Yes,” Van Wie said.
Michael L. Diamond is a business reporter who has been writing about the New Jersey economy and health care industry for more than 20 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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