New figures from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show that New Jersey lost more than 36,000 jobs last month, most of them in the private sector.

But state officials are questioning the data.

New Jersey Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths said he does not believe the preliminary numbers will hold up when revised data is released in March.

"The loss of 36,000 jobs just doesn't follow though on anything -- whether it's home sales, car sales," he said. "Most important, I get all the [unemployment insurance] claims and initial claims, and they're just showing the normal claims that we've been getting in month to month or year to year."

While the size of the job losses is surprising, consultant Patrick O'Keefe said he's not questioning the integrity of the data.

"Last month, when they had a large increase in the number, they didn't call that gain into question," he said. "We live with the data that we have."

The drop in New Jersey's unemployment rate to 7.3 percent results from more people giving up their job search," O'Keefe said. If the labor force participation rate were the same as a year ago, he said, the jobless rate would be above 10 percent.

Wirths acknowledged that some are no longer looking for work.

"We have a lot of baby boomers, we have a lot of people retiring, and we have people going back to school. We have people starting families," he said. "So New Jersey is right there with the national trend with people leaving the labor market."

However, he is adamant that the job loss number of 36,000 will be whittled with the release of data in March.

"Last December we were very, very strong coming off of Superstorm Sandy," he said. "So I don't know if the model was looking for the extremely strong job growth that we had last December or what, but I'm pretty confident that numbers are revised in March that these numbers won't hold up."