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Paterson's Unemployment Struggles Continue

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PATERSON, NJ – For 44 consecutive months, Paterson’s unemployment rate has exceeded 15 percent, according to information from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Camden is the only other New Jersey city that has endured a longer period of such high unemployment, the statistics show.

In fact, if it weren’t for Camden, Paterson would have had New Jersey’s highest unemployment numbers for most of the past four years, the federal data shows.

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In September, the most recent month for which local numbers are available, Paterson’s unemployment rate was 15.7 percent. Camden was at 18 percent and four other municipalities reached the 15-percent mark – Atlantic City (15.5 percent), Perth Amboy (15.1 percent), Newark (15 percent) and Berkeley Township in Ocean County (15 percent).

The September rate for Passaic County was 10.8 percent, while the statewide average was 9.8 percent. The national unemployment rate for October was 7.9 percent.

“Our problem goes back years,” said Mayor Jeffrey Jones. “We were in a decline long before the rest of America felt it.’’

“Paterson historically has been a community that depended on manufacturing jobs and those jobs aren’t around anymore,’’ said Councilman Kenneth Morris, chairman of the committee that oversees economic development.

Indeed, the dormant industrial buildings scattered around Paterson stand as harsh reminders of the thousands of jobs Paterson has lost over the decades. While the rest of the country was basking in the technology boon, Paterson was left out, Jones said. “A lot of our people didn’t have the requisite skills,’’ he said.

Then, when the recession hit America in 2008, Paterson took it on the chin. “Suddenly, you had a shrinking pool of jobs on top of the problems we already had,’’ said the mayor.

How desperate is the job situation in Paterson? Anywhere from 250 to 500 people apply for entry-level positions that become within city government, the mayor said. “We’re talking about a job that pays $17,000 a year,’’ the mayor said.

Morris said Paterson’s employment situation became even worse because two of its three largest employers – city government and the school district – have had layoffs in recent years. Only St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, where Morris himself works, has avoided job cuts, said the councilman.

The New Jersey Small Business Development Center at William Paterson University picked a Paterson company as its annual success story for job expansion. That business added five new jobs, according to the center’s regional director, Kate Muldoon. “In this economy, that’s not a small number,’’ she said.

Other large cities in the state, like Newark and Jersey City, enjoy the employment benefit of having large corporations that make their headquarters there, said Muldoon. “Paterson doesn’t have that,’’ she said. Instead, Paterson has to foster employment by attracting and bolstering small businesses, she added.

 The impending opening of a new supermarket on West Broadway, near the Passaic River, will create dozens of new jobs in the city. But competition for them is expected to be fierce.

Jones said the city is in the process of scheduling a jobs fair. Over the long term, Jones wants to attract investors who would retrofit the city’s empty mills and revive Paterson’s industrial economy. So far, progress on that initiative has been slow, but the mayor hopes the recent hiring of a city economic development director who has experience in attracting businesses to Newark will help spur things along.

Paterson’s unemployment woes go back more than two decades. In fact, since 1990, there have been only three years during which Paterson’s unemployment rate did not reach double digits for at least one month, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics files. Those years were 2000, 2005 and 2007.

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