Atlantic City’s mounting job losses are holding back a painfully slow economic recovery for New Jersey as a whole, a Rutgers economist said in a study released Tuesday.
Nancy Mantell, director of the Rutgers Economic Advisory Service, or R/ECON, said the four casinos that have already closed this year — and a fifth threatening to — are major factors contributing to the state’s worst job growth since 2011.
“What is key here is that New Jersey has been so underperforming the nation,” Mantell said during a twice-a-year conference in New Brunswick for R/ECON subscribers. “The jobs recovery is a non-event.”
She projects New Jersey will add about 11,500 jobs in 2014 — despite the loss of 8,000 or so caused by the closings of the Atlantic Club, Showboat, Revel and Trump Plaza casino properties already this year. Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort has announced but so far delayed its own closing, which would cost the city an estimated 2,600 to 3,000 more jobs.
“That’s more than a third of the jobs in the sector in January 2014, and more than 8 percent of jobs in Atlantic City,” Mantell said in a report that projects a total of 11,000 total casino jobs lost this year alone.
But the state as a whole “has recovered less than half of the 257,900 jobs lost during the Great Recession from January 2008 to January 2011,” R/ECON’s statistics also noted. Mantell projects that at the current rate of growth, it will take until the middle of 2017 for New Jersey to return to its pre-recession number of jobs — and notes that employment in the rest of the country is already ahead of where it was before 2008.
And that led Oliver Cooke, author of Richard Stockton College’s South Jersey Economic Review, to point out Tuesday that the state’s troubles extend well beyond Atlantic City’s Boardwalk and casino floors — no matter how much those floors have shrunk in the past few months.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the state’s overall job growth performance has been lackluster well before the events of 2014 in Atlantic City,” said Cooke, an associate economics professor at Stockton.
“The state has really experienced an anemic recovery,” he added later. “If anything, the events in Atlantic City this year will just make a bad situation unfortunately much worse.”
By his count, New Jersey has been 46th out of the 50 states in job growth since the official start of the recession.
But in an interview after her presentation at Rutgers, Mantell said the state’s standing is actually even a bit lower than that since the country technically started an economic comeback.
“New Jersey is either worst or next to the worst in job recovery since the bottom of the recession — and that was before this year,” Mantell said. “It’s a very long recovery, it’s ongoing and with the trends we see, the state won’t recover to its 2008 high point until 2017, which is a really long time.”
And by that point, two-plus years away, “it wouldn’t really be a surprise if another national recession” started before New Jersey climbs all the way out of the last one, she said.
The R/ECON director typically delivers her reports and forecasts twice a year to an audience that includes officials and business leaders from around the state.
“I don’t usually focus on Atlantic City, but the news this year was just so sad — such a huge job loss and high unemployment rate, the highest in the state,” Mantell said.
Still, in the midst of all that doom and gloom for Atlantic City’s economic climate, Mantell also offered a bit of possible comfort to residents of the area. She doesn’t see opening casinos outside the city as an answer to the state’s economic troubles.
“Even if you expand gambling into the Meadowlands, I’m not sure that is the answer,” she said in her talk. “Apparently casinos in Connecticut are having problems, and of course, we have competition from casinos in New York and Pennsylvania. Cities and states get a little boost from construction jobs, but then what?”
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