The state of the region: A tale of two economies

 Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (left), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (AP Photos)

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (left), and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. (AP Photos)

With most of the nation’s economic arrows now pointing up, President Barack Obama is expected to highlight a wide range of positive changes in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.


But in this region, Pennsylvania and New Jersey aren’t sharing equally in the fruits of the nation’s recovery.

Experts say Pennsylvania’s economy is trending ahead of the national average, driven by a boom in natural gas production and the thousands of jobs that came with it.

“Even if you aren’t in an area that was fracking extensively, you still benefited … because the unemployment rate never shot up to 10 or 11 percent as it might have without fracking,” said Matt Rousu, an economist at Susquehanna University.

“These are extra tens of thousands of people who are working and paying income taxes,” said Rousu.  “It was such a boom for certain areas of the state, that Pennsylvania’s economy was not hurt nearly as bad as our neighbors in New Jersey, or the nation as a whole.”

Joe Seneca, an economist at Rutgers University, agreed. New Jersey lags Pennsylvania and most states in terms of job creation and unemployment, held back by the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy and the collapse of the Atlantic City casino industry. While both states have seen jobs go up and unemployment go down in the last year, he said, Pennsylvania has more jobs now than before 2008’s Great Recession, while New Jersey does not.

“We have gained jobs. New Jersey private-sector employment is up 153,000,” Seneca said. “But that’s against a loss during the recession of nearly 250,000 private-sector jobs. So we are not yet back.”

New Jersey is also suffering from deeper negative trends affecting job growth, he said. The state doesn’t have many jobs in the automotive industry, a sector which accounts for much of the national growth in the manufacturing sector, Seneca continued. And some of the state’s other traditional engines of job creation, such as the pharmaceutical and telecom industries, face increased competition from around the nation and the world, and are shrinking or not growing, he said.

However, the news is not all bad for the Garden State, Seneca added. Gov. Chris Christie’s belt-tightening budgets have helped rein in New Jersey’s deficits. And that, he said, could help the state attract new businesses and invest in education and infrastructure in the years to come.

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