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The unemployment rate in the New Brunswick dropped slightly in August to 5.5%, down from 6.1% in July, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), New Brunswick Today reports .

While New Brunswick’s 5.5% August unemployment rate was slightly better than New Jersey’s 5.7% for the month, both were above the national rate of 5.1%.

According to reports, the national rate has been kept in check since some 350,000 Americans left the labor force in September, causing a 62.6% “Labor Participation Rate (LPR)” – the number of people employed or actively seeking work – a key measure of labor market health.

The country’s LPR is of concern because it hasn’t been this low since 1977.  That’s not good.

“The number of people employed or actively seeking work in New Jersey, as measured by the labor force participation rate, continues to exceed the national rate, 63.7 percent to 62.6 percent,” said the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development on September 17, prior to the BLS jobs report.

“The BLS preliminary estimates for August record private sector job growth in seven of nine major industry sectors: professional and business services (+4,600), leisure and hospitality (+3,600), education and health services (+2,100), financial activities (+1,800), manufacturing (+1,200), construction (+600), and other services (+500). Minor contractions were in trade, transportation, and utilities (-500) and information (-200).”

Of course many people work in the so called “Underground Economy,” which doesn’t get reflected in BLS data.

The underground economy functions largely on cash transactions and can be omitted from business accounting records, making it difficult to trace.

Reports indicate that trillions of dollars of income are generated by the underground economy in the U.S. each year.

New Brunswick’s population is about 57,080, according to a 2014 U.S. Census Bureau estimate – less than 1% of the 8,938,175 estimated population living in the Garden State.

The Hub City’s unemployment rate hasn’t been lower since December 2014 when it was 5.1% with a total labor force of 26,280.

But fluctuations are common in the rate.  Following December’s strong performance, January’s unemployment figure was 6.5%, the highest it had been since August 2014.  The rate peaked at 7.1% for the year in June of 2014, following the abrupt closure of the downtown Fresh Grocer supermarket.

In fact, June has been a poor month for the city in terms of the number of people working.  In 2011, the BLS reported that 2,687 New Brunswick workers, or 10% of the labor force was out of work – the highest the rate had been in almost two decades.

The Aldi Food Market on Van Dyke Avenue held a hiring event in August to recruit store associates, and the opening of another supermarket downtown, a Key Foods that replaced the FreshGrocer, gave more positive news to job seekers that month.

The city’s FreshGrocer store closed in May 2014, after 18 months of doing business, owing $1 million to its landlord, the New Brunswick Parking Authority (NBPA), and leaving many people without jobs.

“Fewer than 100 store employees will be affected by the closure. Workers will be offered positions at other Fresh Grocer locations,” reported the Supermarket News.

But Wakefern Food Corporation, which runs Shop-Rite stores in New Jersey and became the Fresh Grocer’s distributor before the Hub City location went out of business, pinned the number of lost jobs at 200.

While the NBPA wasn’t successful in helping keep the Fresh Grocer open at the prime-downtown retail location, it did sign a 20-year lease with an operator that’s part of the Northeast supermarket cooperative, Key Foods.

The new Key Foods Market opened for business on August 21, creating scores of local jobs. And the business didn’t even have to pay any rent until October 1, as stated in the lease.

“I’m confident that with this flagship store, we will set a new standard for grocery stores in New Jersey,” said store owner Kevin Kim.

“Our goal is to offer good food at low prices to the New Brunswick community with a staff that is well-trained and customer service-oriented to offer customers the best shopping experience possible.”

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