New Jersey unemployment rate at 9.8 percent, highest since 1977

Thu Aug 16, 2012 3:02pm EDT

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Aug 16 (Reuters) - New Jersey's unemployment rate rose in July for the fourth month in a row to 9.8 percent, a record high since 1977, according to data released by the state Department of Labor on Thursday.

July's jobless rate in the Garden State was up from 9.6 percent in June and from 9.4 percent in July 2011, the preliminary numbers showed.

Democrats seized on the data to blast Republican Governor Chris Christie's self-proclaimed "comeback" for New Jersey.

"There is no way to interpret this other than bad," said New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, in a statement. "What I want to see is this administration admit it is failing in terms of getting people back to work."

Sweeney said he wanted Christie's administration to "either get out of the way or come up with an actual idea" to help the state's recovery from the recession.

Christie, the keynote speaker for the Republican national convention later this month, was regarded as a strong candidate to be Republican Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate until Romney picked U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Saturday.

The national unemployment rate in July also edged up 0.1 percent to 8.3 percent in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The national economy has been sluggish and, realistically, we can't be exempt," New Jersey's chief economist, Charles Steindel said in a statement on Thursday. "Given the national softness and the strength of our job gains in May and June some fallback was likely."

In releasing its preliminary data, New Jersey noted that private sector employers have added 79,000 jobs since February 2010 and that the "long-term employment trend continues to be positive." The state also lost a total of 12,000 jobs in July, the department said.

New Jersey's jobless rate last hit this level in April 1977, when it stood at 9.9 percent, according to BLS data.

In December 2009, it reached 9.7 percent and hovered there for several months, but then began to inch down again until hitting 9.0 percent in January 2012.

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