Both employment and wages in New Jersey rose at the end of 2014, though by less than the national average, and some counties suffered losses, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Atlantic County, for instance, had 5 percent fewer workers in December 2014 than it had a year earlier, giving it the dubious distinction of suffering the largest year-to-year job loss of large counties across the nation-- the BLS tracks changes in 339 counties with at least 75,000 workers.
"Atlantic County’s casino hotels dropped 6,803 workers, or 24 percent of its total employment over the year" from December 2013 to December 2014," said Bruce Bergman, an economist in the BLS' New York-New Jersey office. " Additional job loss occurred elsewhere within the leisure and hospitality industry, where the total loss was even greater, to the magnitude of another 500 jobs. This job loss, however, was tempered by gains in other industries, so that the overall decline amounted to a lesser contraction of 5,882."
It was also offset by gains elsewhere in hospitality, so that segment was flat statewide and all together New Jersey saw employment gain by 1.3 percent from December 2013 to December 2014.
However, that was less than the 2.2 percent average job growth nationwide, according to the 4th Quarter County Employment and Wages in New Jersey report released Thursday.
Bergman said a "hopeful sign" for employment in the state is the construction industry, "which is basically keeping pace with the nation, having job growth at the rate of about 6 percent for the year ending in December."
Passaic County was the only other large county in New Jersey with a loss of jobs – at .5 percent. Nationally, just 20 large counties experienced employment losses.
Mercer, Monmouth and Gloucester counties posted job gains higher than the national average, with Mercer adding the largest percentage -- 3.7 percent -- in the state.
The report shows that the average weekly wage in the last quarter of 2014 rose in New Jersey by 2 percent to $1,211. While that amount was the fifth-largest of any state and the District of Columbia, which had the highest average weekly wage of $1,696, it did not rise as fast as the national average, which increased by 3.5 percent. In fact, New Jersey's 2 percent increase ranked 49th, better only than Nevada and Delaware.
Bergman said that while New Jersey’s wage growth in the private sector did not rank high for the last year, it was higher than the previous year's rate: 1.6 percent from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the last quarter of 2013. The "bright spots" in wages last year were in information, up 3.9 percent, and in retail trade, which was 4.6 percent higher, and both industries registered job growth of about 1 percent, he added.
"And, if you look at where the state is now compared to two years ago, you’ll see that although the overall growth in the number of establishments and employment has not kept up with the nation, the average weekly wage has," Bergman said. "The fourth quarter 2014 private sector wage in New Jersey was 3.7 percent higher than it was two years earlier. Nationally, it was 3.4 percent higher.
Five counties saw the average wage rise faster than the nation. Although it lost the greatest percentage of jobs, Atlantic County also had the largest increase in wages in the state, at 7 percent. Union, Bergen, Hudson and Somerset also posted gains higher than the national average.
Two New Jersey counties -- Morris and Camden -- were among only seven large counties across the country where the average wage in the last quarter of 2014 was less than a year earlier. In only two large counties in the nation did wages drop by a greater proportion than Morris County's 2.9 percent decline.
However, Morris was among 10 counties in the state where the average wage exceeded the national average. Somerset's $1,543 weekly wage was the highest in the state and 10th-highest in the nation.
Of New Jersey's large counties, only Atlantic, Camden, Gloucester, Ocean and Passaic had average wages less than the national average of $1,035, according to the report. Of those, Ocean's was the lowest, at $845 a week.
Cape May, with just 35,400 workers, is not among the counties for which the BLS provides adjusted data, but based on its preliminary data, the southernmost county had New Jersey's lowest wage, at $742 a week, and its highest December-to-December employment gain of 4.4 percent. Salem, another small county with unadjusted data, had the largest average wage increase in the state, at 12 percent.