Adding to signs that the job market is strengthening, the Labor Department says fewer folks in New Jersey and nationwide are seeking unemployment benefits. 

Nationally, applications for unemployment benefits dropped 14,000 to a seasonally adjusted 351,000.  That matches a four-year low reached last month.  When unemployment benefit applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

In New Jersey, new claims fell below the pre-recession average and continuing claims, while seasonally elevated, trended downward.  “For more than two years now, there has been a downward trend in the number of individuals receiving regular benefits,” said Pat O’Keefe, Director of Economic Research at J.H. Cohn in Roseland.  “While, we can’t say it’s a robust recovery, it is now a sustained one.”

“This sustained growth is still occurring against the backdrop of a very significant, negative experience for the state’s labor market and we still have a long way to go,” said O’Keefe.  “What we’ve got now is normal turnover in the labor market.  There are always jobs being created or disappearing and those things continue whether the economy is weak or strong.  But, we’re seeing it now at levels that suggest that, here in New Jersey, our labor market is improving.  Employment levels have not only stabilized, but are gradually moving up.”