Chester County Unemployment Inches Down

Monday, January 28th 2013

Chester County Unemployment Inches Down

From the

Chester County’s unemployment rate was headed down at the end of 2012, dropping 0.1 percent in November to 5.9 percent and even with the rate in November 2011.

The number of unemployed in Chester County dropped in November to 15,800 from 16,200 in October.

The statistics were compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, which reported the biggest gains in November employment were in retail along with leisure and hospitality.

Though Chester County’s unemployment inched to a lower level, “I don’t want to make too much out of one month,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester.

Retail had a decent holiday in sales and hiring, Sweet said. One boost came from the calendar: Thanksgiving was the fourth Thursday in a month that had five Thursdays, giving shoppers an extra week of retail between Black Friday and Christmas.

Also on the plus side, Sweet pointed out, Chester County dodged the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that shut down businesses, disrupted hiring and caused temporary layoffs in some New Jersey shore communities.

But there is still the uncertainty of the national economy, Sweet continued.

“It was touch and go as businesses adjusted to the ‘fiscal cliff,’” Sweet said.

Though there was a sigh of relief that the “fiscal cliff” was averted at the 11th hour, the measures taken to avoid the cliff were stopgaps, not solutions.

Sweet said while the nation waits, count on businesses to stay in scaled back modes as Washington addresses the debt ceiling, spending cuts and the Congressional budget.

“Until there is fiscal clarity, companies will be reluctant to hire,” Sweet said. “2013 will be off to a slow start.”

Kicking the can down the road, the way the federal government has done, means companies will put hiring plans on “the back burner,” Sweet said.

This will “not be a booming year” though it is going in the right direction, Sweet said. Don’t look for much until 2014.

Though unemployment dropped, other employment numbers were mixed.

Chester County’s labor force dropped to 269,100 workers in November from 269,900 in October.

Stanley Schuck, program director of Hire One in Uwchlan, explained that “people fall off the map” as they run out of unemployment benefits and there are also people who have ceased looking for work.

The economic troubles for the county, like the nation, began in 2008 and 2009 in the early days of the recession, Schuck said. Back then, companies in Chester County started laying off middle-level management in information technology, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and health care, all key industries to the region.

Those employees left on the job took on more work, Schuck continued. “But after a while, people get tired and productivity falls off.”

As a result, Schuck believes some companies will want to turn around that trend and start hiring middle management to “offset the load” carried by current employees.

While the program director does not think the number of those jobs will ramp back up to pre-recession levels, he does see an uptick in hiring in middle management in communications, web construction and change management this year. The last, change management, is generally a consultant brought in to guide a company into a new corporate culture after an acquisition or through management changes.

Schuck has a bit of a brighter prediction for 2013 than Moody’s Sweet.

Judging by internet job boards in the region, “in 2013 (companies) will start to hire back,” Schuck said, noting that while there are national economic issues yet to be addressed, a growing number of companies feel they are at a place where they have to make a decision.

The five-county Philadelphia market had an 8.3 percent unemployment rate in November, down 0.2 percent from the month before, with Chester County holding the lowest unemployment rate.

Philadelphia had the highest rate at 10.4 percent, followed by Delaware County at 8.0 percent, Bucks County at 7.3 percent and Montgomery County at 6.6 percent.

Across the state, the unemployment rate fell 0.3 percent to 7.8 percent while the national rate was down 0.2 percent to 7.7 percent.

Unemployment across the commonwealth’s 67 counties ranged from a low of 5.7 percent in Centre County, located in central Pennsylvania, to a high of 11.1 percent in Cameron County, located in north-central Pennsylvania.

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