As reported by, with a flood of retirements, the sluggish economy, and a governor intent on shrinking the size of government, the number of public workers in New Jersey has dropped to its lowest level in eight years, a Star-Ledger analysis shows. New Jersey shed about 29,100 state and local government jobs during Governor Chris Christie’s first 19 months in office, trailing only New York and California in the total number of public sector jobs lost, according to federal labor statistics.

The latest figures, released earlier this month, show the state has fewer public employees-from police and teachers to college administrators and state workers-on the payrolls than at any other point since September 2003. In fact, New Jersey’s sizable decline accounts for more than 8 percent of the 357,100 public sector jobs lost in states across the country since January 2010, the month Christie took office.

The loss of public sector jobs comes as New Jersey’s post-recession economy continues to struggle, translating into a 9.5 percent unemployment rate that is 13th highest in the nation. In recent months, Christie has recast the unemployment rate-a critical yardstick for governors-saying it’s more a measure of his success than his failures. He said the stubbornly high jobless figure is an unavoidable consequence of his mission to shrink the size of government in New Jersey.

But economists and critics argue that Christie’s outlook ignorers how the loss of so many jobs, regardless of their origin, threatens the state’s broader economy. In January 2010, there were 590,200 employees on public payrolls in New Jersey. But that has dropped by more than 5 percent, the fifth highest percentage decline in the nation. In the same time period, the total number of jobs in New Jersey-accounting for gains in the private sector and losses in public jobs-rose by 20,300. That ranks New Jersey behind 38 other states in percentage of job growth. Christie’s critics say he may have been successful at shrinking government, but he has failed to expand the economy and provide new employment opportunities.

“In previous times, the decline in public sector jobs hit administration, but these last two years we are seeing a dramatic dip in police, fire, and EMS employees because the state aid was cut,” said William Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities. Police and firefighters across the state have reacted with anger, framing the issue as a matter of public safety. “Our members are being asked to do their job without the manpower necessary to get things done. And at any given time, we can go to work and not come home,” said Dominick Marino, president of the International Association of Firefighters of New Jersey.

The city of Trenton is preparing to layoff 108 officers, which union officials there say would put staffing at 1930s levels.