New Jersey’s Curiously Weak Economy

With Chris Christie in some political hot water, it’s a good time to look at something that’s puzzled me for a while about his popularity. New Jersey’s economy seems to be in pretty bad shape.

It’s difficult to know exactly what the best comparison is, but New Jersey unemployment is higher than the national average. It’s also higher than the average for the Northeast. It’s higher than the average unemployment for the Philadelphia metropolitan area (much of which is in New Jersey) and it’s higher than the average unemployment for the New York City metropolitan area (which, again, is partially in New Jersey). Either the Jersey-side suburbs of New York and Philadelphia are lagging behind the non-Jersey suburbs, or else the labor market in the non-metro parts of New Jersey is so horrendous that it’s dragging the whole state down.

This is not a trend that was evident before the recession began, when New Jersey had a slightly stronger than average economy. But during 2009 (when Christie was first running for office), New Jersey unemployment soared above its local comps while still remaining slightly below the national average. Then since Christie’s inauguration, Jersey unemployment has fallen steadily but not closed the gap with metro NYC or metro Philly unemployment rates, and the national rate has fallen much faster than the New Jersey rate.

Whether Christie actually deserves any blame for this I couldn’t say. But incumbent executive officeholders frequently end up taking the blame (or credit) for this kind of thing, and Christie largely hasn’t—floating instead on a wave of massive local popularity. But if scandal takes some of the sheen off, I wonder if these underlying negatives will start to loom larger in people’s thinking about his reputation.