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Franklin County jobless rate continues downward trend

February 05, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The jobless rate in Franklin County is at its lowest in years, but Monday night a group of 19 people began taking classes to improve their shot at getting work, said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

The unemployment rate fell by two-tenths of a percentage point in December, ending the year at 3.1 percent, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

That rate is well below the 5.8 percent jobless rate recorded for December 2002 and the lowest rate in more than three years, according to the report. Franklin County was tied with Lancaster County for the fifth lowest unemployment rate in the state.

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Cumberland County was lowest of the 67 counties, at 2.6 percent. The seasonally adjusted Pennsylvania rate was 4.6 percent.

"We do essentially have full employment," Ross said Monday.

He said, however, that 2004 will be a "turnaround year" during which many companies will be looking to make capital improvements or expand operations.

"Work force development is going to be critical" to supporting those expansion plans, Ross said.

That was one reason a consortium of area companies last year created Basic Employment Skills Training, or BEST, to increase the pool of available workers.

Classes began Monday at the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, and Ross called the first group "an interesting mix of people" that includes the jobless, those seeking better jobs and Franklin County Prison inmates.

"These people are taking a chance on the program, paying $100 with no guarantee of a employment," Ross said.

The companies that created BEST did so in hopes of finding and training people to fill entry-level jobs, he said.

Labor Department figures showed about 2,000 people still listed as unemployed in the county, 200 fewer than November and about half the 3,800 jobless in December 2002. In the past year, the number of people employed has gone up by 3,200 to 64,000, according to department statistics.

Fulton County showed an increase in its unemployment rate from 3.9 to 4.6 percent, still well below the 11.1 percent jobless rate in December 2002. The number of people working was unchanged from November to December at 6,300.

The number of people unemployed remained at 300, but the Labor Department noted that figures are rounded off to the nearest hundred.

In the past year, the number of nonfarm jobs in the two-county labor market increased by 1,900 to 54,900, according to the labor department.

Despite it being the height of the holiday shopping season, retail jobs held steady at 6,800. Wholesale jobs were up 100 to 2,800 and hotel and restaurant jobs increased by 100, to 4,700.

Manufacturing jobs were unchanged from November to December at 10,700, but were up by 800 for the year, according to Labor Department statistics. There was a seasonal decrease of 100 in construction jobs to 2,800.

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