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What recession? Franklin County's jobless rate among lowest in Pa.

April 02, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- The unemployment rate in Franklin County rose slighty in February as construction and retail showed seasonal declines, but some job categories hit record levels, according to preliminary figures released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The rate climbed from 4.1 percent to 4.2 percent in February, while the seasonally adjusted rate, which takes into account expected fluctuations in some industries, fell from 3.8 percent to 3.7 percent. That adjusted rate tied Franklin County with Lancaster County for the second-lowest jobless rate in the state, just behind Chester County at 3.5 percent.

February is traditionally a weak month in retail sales, but changing conditions in the industry have meant some holiday hires might be keeping their jobs longer, said Ryan Horner, a department industry and business analyst.

"If anything, I think there's been less of a trend for a decrease in January," Horner said. The use of gift cards and more post-holiday sales might be causing retailers to hold on to temporary help longer, he said.

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Retail employment fell by 100 to 7,200, still 400 more than in February 2007, according to department figures.

Brad Shields seemed confident in the economy Tuesday. He opened Awe Baby, a baby boutique at 166 S. Main St., Chambersburg, about a week earlier, selling clothes, toys and other merchandise for infants, toddlers and new mothers.

"Personally, I don't think the economy is slumping. I think it's all perception," Shields said a moment before a couple of customers entered the store.

Construction saw a drop of 100 jobs to 2,800, which Horner said is normal in the winter. The number of people working in construction was still equal to the February 2007 level, the report stated.

Leisure and hospitality saw an increase of 200 to a record 5,500, the report stated. The category includes motels and restaurants, but could reflect higher employment at Whitetail Resort during the week the survey was taken.

Health and education services matched a record, adding 100 jobs to reach 8,600. Health care is not an area where Horner expects to see any significant decreases.

"That is an expected growth industry, especially with all the Baby Boomers retiring," Horner said. As they age, boomers will require more medical care, along with the other people moving into the county, he said.

February has been a cool month for employment in past years, Horner said. The last time the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent was in February 2005. The last time the rate was higher was the 4.5 percent rate in February 2004, he said.

"I'm not seeing any alarm bells," Horner said of the local economy. However, the jobless rates - adjusted and unadjusted - are both half a percentage point higher than in February 2007.

The number of people working in the county increased by 100 to 78,400 as did the number of jobless, which grew by 100 to 3,500 people, the report stated.

In Fulton County, the unadjusted jobless rate fell from 7.7 percent to 7.5 percent in February, although the statistics were unchanged for the number of people employed, 7,500, and the number unemployed, 600. However, the seasonally adjusted rate fell from 7.2 percent to 6 percent.

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