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Franklin County jobless rate drops

October 31, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. -The jobless rate in Franklin County hit a three-year low in September, but the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, according to an analyst with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Unemployment fell three-tenths of a percent in September to 3.3 percent, matching the August 2000 level, according to preliminary figures released by the department.

"That's not as rosy a picture as it may seem at first glance," said Peter Phelan, an industry and business analyst with the department. He said the data indicates that more people are pulling themselves out of the labor force and falling into the category of "discouraged workers."

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"When they indicate they are no longer looking for work, we count them as discouraged workers," Phelan said. At that point, however, they no longer are counted as unemployed, he said.

The monthly report showed that the labor force - the total of those working and seeking work - has fallen by 1,600 since September 2002 to 64,800. Additionally, the number of people working is 800 less than the 63,400 in September 2002, when unemployment was 4.5 percent and the number of jobless estimated at 3,000.

The number of people working fell by 1,000 from August to September to 62,600 and the number of unemployed fell 200 to 2,200, according to the report. The number of people in the labor force was down 1,100 as students returned to school and college classrooms.

Wes Cool, site administrator for the Team PA CareerLink job training center in Chambersburg, said the number of people seeking work or job training through his office had dropped dramatically in recent months, a trend he is at a loss to explain.

"In the past several months, the number of people coming into CareerLink had averaged 7,200 a month," Cool said. In the past four months the average has been closer to 2,800 and it was 2,431 in September, he said.

"We're doing well, but not that well," he said. Cool said his office does not keep statistics on how many people stop looking for work.

"September is a very seasonable month. You have your summer jobs ending, which pushes down retail hiring," said Phelan. Sales jobs fell, as did leisure and hospitality employment as hotels and restaurants cut back.

For the first time in four months, the number of nonfarm jobs in Franklin and Fulton counties increased, going up 1,100 to 55,200. Most of that was due to schools re-opening as local government employment jumped from 4,300 to 5,300.

Transportation hiring in the two counties was up because of school bus drivers going back to work and the educational and health services category rose due to private school hiring, according to Phelan.

Manufacturers continued hiring as the number of workers rose 100 to 11,000, an increase of 900 jobs since March, according to department figures.

"There are a few manufacturers adding people here and there," Phelan said, but no sign of companies hiring large numbers of new workers.

The county has the fifth lowest unemployment rate among the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, unchanged from August, according to the report. Pennsylvania's jobless rate was 4.8 percent in September and the national rate was 5.8 percent.

Fulton County saw its rate increase from 4 to 4.7 percent, as the number of people working dipped from 6,300 to 6,200. The number of jobless remained at 300.

Fulton County ranks 31st in the state, down from 13th in August. Still, its jobless rate is below the 5.9 percent recorded in September 2002.

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