Franklin, Fulton jobless rates soar

February 03, 2009|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - How much longer the recession will last is unknown, but the 5.5 percent unemployment rate for Franklin County in December was near the peak it reached in the previous recession, according to preliminary figures released today by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The jobless rate for the county rose to its highest level, 5.6 percent, in January 2002, said Ryan Horner, a departrment industry and business analyst. In December 2007, the jobless rate was 3.3 percent, according to state data.

Fulton County, hit by layoffs at JLG Industries, saw its jobless rate rise from 9.9 percent to 10.4 percent, the highest since hitting 11.3 percent in January 2002, Horner said. That rate does not reflect additional layoffs JLG announced would take effect in January.

The December unemployment rate for Pennsylvania was 6.7 percent and the national rate was 7.2 percent, the report stated.

For the first time in six years, county retailers did not add any additional jobs in December, when the number of jobs was 7,500. "That sector is serving as a barometer of what the economy is doing, or not doing," Horner said.


Construction jobs fell 200 from November to December to 2,700, a seasonal decline exacerbated by the housing slump. In December 2007, there were 3,100 people working in construction.

Housing starts in the county fell from 1,045 in 2007 to 735 in 2008, according to County Planning Department figures.

"I think the increase is a reflection of a couple of things, one being the broader global recession," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. That is affecting heavy manufacturers such as Manitowoc Crane, Volvo, JLG Industries and their suppliers, he said.

Manufacturing jobs fell by 100 in December to 14,300, but were down 300 from the previous December, the report stated.

"It's also a reflection of a national slowdown that occurs right after the holidays," Ross said.

"The (unemployment) number will probably continue to rise somewhat over the next month or so," Ross said. "January will reflect the retail component of the downsizing."

"Comparatively speaking, we're still doing well," said Ross, who credited some of the strength of the local economy to the presence of federal jobs at Letterkenny Army Depot, the county's largest employer. FCADC is also working to lure other large employers to the area, he said.

"We know we have projects that are materializing here that are going to be significant," Ross said. "There is clearly a light at the end of the tunnel and it is going to be pretty bright in the not-too-distant future."

Despite his optimism, Ross said major manufacturers are less enthusiastic about a proposed federal stimulus plan than they were before the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version last week.

Those companies want more money for infrastructure and less for government programs, he said.

"We have the companies that build the equipment for that," he said.

The report showed one bright spot - leisure and hospitality - where jobs rose by 400 to 5,400. Horner said that was due primarily to Whitetail Ski Resort hiring for the season.

While the number of people listed as unemployed rose by 200 to 4,600, the overall number of people working in Franklin County was still 500 higher for the year at 79,000, the report stated. The number of people working in Fulton County fell by 400 over the year to 7,100.

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