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Jobless rate drops again in Franklin County

December 04, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - As it has for all but two months this year, Franklin County's unemployment rate fell again in October, dropping from 3.4 percent to 3.2 percent, according to preliminary figures released this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

That is more than a full percentage point lower than the 4.3 percent rate in October 2002, according to department figures. The anomaly in the numbers, however, is that there were 1,100 more people employed in the county a year ago than the 62,800 listed now.

"I think there are a lot of different answers for that," said Wes Cool, site administrator for the Team PA CareerLink job training center in Chambersburg, Pa.

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Possible explanations include discouraged workers who have removed themselves from the labor force and unemployed people whose benefits have been exhausted, Cool said. Other pieces of the puzzle may include people who have joined the underground economy and older workers who have been laid off and decided not to re-enter the work force.

As the holidays approach, Cool said some unemployed people may be waiting until the first of the year to look for jobs.

"It's not as true a picture as we'd like it to be," Franklin County Area Development Corp. President L. Michael Ross said. He said the jobless figures do not do a good job of measuring either discouraged workers or those who are under-employed, people whose "jobs are not commensurate with their skill sets."

The number of people listed as unemployed in the county was 2,100 in October, down 100 from September and 800 less than October 2002, according to state figures. While the number with jobs was below the October 2002 figure, it was 300 higher than September's 62,500.

While a low unemployment rate is indicative of a bustling economy, Ross said a tight labor market has its downside.

"For companies looking to expand or locate here, they will look at that number and it will raise a red flag," Ross said.

A company looking to hire hundreds of people, as the Target distribution center did earlier this year, may have difficulty finding adequate numbers of qualified and available workers, he said.

Ross said employers have been hiring new workers, or recalling those who were laid off, but the pace has been steady rather than spectacular, with companies bringing aboard modest numbers of new workers as needed.

Companies are also drawing from a labor pool that extends beyond Franklin County's borders, Ross said.

The Franklin-Fulton Labor Market Area is now tied for the second lowest of the 43 labor market areas in Pennsylvania with a combined jobless rate of 3.3 percent, down from 3.5 percent in September, according to department figures.

The labor market is tied with the Harrisburg-Lebanon-Carlisle and Lancaster areas, meaning that labor markets are tight throughout much of South Central Pennsylvania. Statewide, unemployment was at 5 percent in October, according to department figures.

Fulton County's jobless rate fell from 4.8 percent to 4.3 percent in October. That moved that county from 33rd to 21st place among the state's 67 counties.

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