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By David Madden

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — New unemployment numbers have officials in New Jersey crowing.

They say the level of improvement hasn’t been seen in the state since the ’70s.

The sluggish economic recovery continued in April, with the national jobless rate dropping slightly to 7½ percent.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate has been consistently higher, but recent changes have brought it down dramatically.

“We’ve gone from 9.3 (percent) two months ago to 8.7,” said state labor commissioner Harold Wirths today.  “That’s the steepest drop since 1977.”

The private sector is credited for fueling this turnaround, with eight out of nine “focus areas” showing significant job growth over the past year.

There were 4,100 new jobs last month in New Jersey, and just under 60,000 since April 2012.

Public sector employment in the state held steady, but could take a hit as new federal cuts are phased in.

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