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Superstorm Sandy helped strip 41,600 jobs from NY and NJ

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York and New Jersey lost a total of 41,600 jobs in November as Superstorm Sandy wiped out employment in restaurants, offices, dry cleaners, nail salons, construction sites and other businesses.

New York state lost more jobs than any other U.S. state in November, shedding 33,500 nonfarm jobs, with most of the losses - 29,100 - in the private sector, according to U.S. Labor Department data released on Friday.

New Jersey lost another 8,100 nonfarm jobs -- 3,700 in the private sector and 4,400 in the public sector, New Jersey labor officials said.

"This is a remarkably good showing under the circumstances created by Sandy. It seems clear that the storm generated some job losses, particularly in leisure and hospitality, but the total loss for the state was fairly modest," said New Jersey's Chief Economist Charles Steindel in a statement.

New York City, which saw widespread storm-related flooding along coastal regions and in Manhattan's financial district, lost an estimated 900 private sector jobs when it typically would have gained nearly 24,000, according to state labor data.

The numbers are compiled by sampling local businesses, likely including some that could not respond to the survey because they were destroyed by the storm.

"We almost certainly haven't captured the entire scope of the damage," said James Brown, a labor market analyst for New York State.

The full picture might not be known until March, Brown said, when the state is expected to release data gleaned from tax information.

"The data aren't slam-dunk conclusive, but they do suggest that Hurricane Sandy did have a depressing effect on employment growth last month," said JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli in a commentary.

Even before the storm hit, the region's recovery was tepid by several measures.

Connecticut, for example, had a seasonally-adjusted civilian labor force of 1,883,200 for November -- down 11,100 from October, the biggest monthly decline since the state began keeping records in 1976.

"The continuing trend of civilian labor force decline driven primarily by previously working individuals causes concern that we are seeing a fundamental shift in the demographics of Connecticut's workforce," said Andy Condon, research director at the Connecticut Department of Labor, in a statement.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT RATES DROPPED

Yet in almost all U.S. states - even those hit hardest by Sandy - unemployment rates continued to drift downward in November, according to the U.S. Labor Department.

Altogether, jobless rates dropped from the month before in 45 states and the District of Columbia and were unchanged in the remaining five states. In 43 states, rates were lower than a year ago and were higher in six.

Nevada continued to hold the highest jobless rate in the country, 10.8 percent, but that was significantly lower than the 11.5 percent rate in October and 13.2 percent rate in November 2011. Rhode Island followed at 10.4 percent.

North Dakota, on the other hand, continued to register the lowest jobless rate, 3.1 percent, the same as the prior month and slightly lower than 3.4 percent in November 2011.

Most states saw their unemployment rates drop over the course of 2012, but the rate of decline is slowing. Only 23 states saw "statistically significant over-the-month unemployment rate decreases in November," the Labor Department said. The remaining states' drops were so small that their jobless rates "were not measurably different from those of a month earlier."

In terms of jobs, North Carolina gained the most with 30,600, followed by Florida at 24,500, and Texas with 22,100. Indiana was second behind New York in terms of job losses, at 9,100, with New Jersey ranking third.

Since November 2011, 45 states gained jobs while five and the District of Columbia shed jobs.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish and Nick Zieminski)

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