Governor Chris Christie continues to tout the “New Jersey Comeback.” Democrats continue to blast Christie saying it’s more like the state is in the middle of an ongoing setback. Is Christie right or are the Democrats the ones telling it like it is?

One of the state’s leading economists is weighing in.

Rutgers economist Jim Hughes says the best data source on the direction of the state’s economy is the monthly payroll employment data which are job reports done by employers. He says the unemployment numbers aren’t as reliable unless they are considered on a year-over-year basis.

“2011 was the best private sector job growth year since the year 2000,” explains Hughes. “In 2012, through the first seven months we’re on pace to surpass 2011 (but) not by much.”

Asked if this means Christie is right about the State of New Jersey, Hughes says, “Yeah, it’s made a comeback. Basic employment numbers do show a comeback……The trend is certainly positive, but it’s certainly not sufficient enough yet to make up for all of the recessionary loses.”

The State Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s latest unemployment figures released last week show the rate rose in July from 9.6% to 9.8%. This marks the 38th consecutive month that the Garden State’s jobless rate has been at or above 9%. The last time the rate was higher than it is now was April of 1977 when it was 9.9%.

Labor commissioner Hal Wirth says in July, “There was a loss of 12,000 jobs. 7,000 were in the private sector and 5,000 were in the public sector…..There are about 450,000 people unemployed right now in the State of New Jersey……We’re discouraged to have one bad month like this, but it is one month and they are preliminary numbers.”

Democrats were quick to capitalize on the bad news.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said, “There is no way to interpret this other than bad. I don’t want to hear any spin. I don’t want to hear anything remotely close to painting this as good news. I don’t want a press conference touting these numbers as if it’s a ‘mission accomplished’ moment…The ‘Jersey Comeback’ is possible if this administration would either get out of the way or come up with an actual idea. If they won’t do either, we will simply step up as we have had to do in the past.”

Earlier this week, Christie responded to his critics by saying, “I have said right from the State of the State Address forward that the New Jersey Comeback has begun. Not that the New Jersey Comeback has arrived, not that the New Jersey Comeback has peaked…..In nine of the last 11 months, we’ve added private sector jobs.”

Today, Christie brings his “Endless Summer Tax Relief” tour to Mannington Township, where he will hold his 89th town hall. He will continue pushing the legislature to act now on a bipartisan tax relief plan.