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August 1, 2014, 8:25 pm

Unemployment down in Pa., but few in U.S. labor force

In this file photo, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gipson, of Atlanta, right, has his resume reviewed by Ralph Brown, a management and program analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a job fair for veterans at the VFW Post 2681,Marietta, Ga. The government reports on unemployment rates show 11.6 African Americans are unemployed, compared with 5.3 percent for whites. - AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN, FILE In this file photo, retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas Gipson, of Atlanta, right, has his resume reviewed by Ralph Brown, a management and program analyst with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a job fair for veterans at the VFW Post 2681,Marietta, Ga. The government reports on unemployment rates show 11.6 African Americans are unemployed, compared with 5.3 percent for whites. - AP PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN, FILE

The total number of unemployed workers in Pennsylvania dropped to 6.0 percent in March 2014, down 0.2 percent from February statistics, according to the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

The number of unemployed Pennsylvanians in March was 389,000, compared with March 2010 numbers of 555,700. The figures still represents an estimated 97,000 more unemployed Pennsylvanians than when the recession began.

The unemployment rate for African-American Pennsylvanians actually dropped last year, from 13 percent in 2011 to 11.7 percent in 2013, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

That compares with a drop from 6.3 percent in 2011 for whites in Pennsylvania, to 6.1 percent in 2013, according to the report.

Democratic U.S. State Representative Chaka Fattah, a senior member on the House Appropriations Committee, said the April jobs report was encouraging and the numbers far surpassed expectations, marking the 50th consecutive month of job growth.

“This report is the best indication that the economy is picking up and points to the lowest unemployment rate since 2008,” Fattah said in an official statement. “This news coupled with the revised jobs numbers from February and March show that this year an average of 214,000 jobs are being added to the economy every month. Today’s positive jobs report is yet another sign that the president’s plan to turn this economy around is on the right track. We must stay the course. Again, I call on my colleagues to join the administration’s fight to bring down the unemployment rate and vote in support of providing hard working Americans a livable wage so this economy remains on the right path to growth.”

However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) April jobs report drew mixed responses for showing a decline in national unemployment levels but also reduced participation in the labor market.

The number of labor-force participants fell sharply, with 806,000 Americans simply no longer looking for work.

With national unemployment figure dropping to 6.3 percent in April, the report indicated employment gains were widespread, led by job growth in professional and business services, retail trade, food services and drinking establishments and the construction industry. But the report also showed that nationally for African Americans, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 11.6 percent which is 2.6 percent higher than at the start of the recession.

“The mixed jobs report shows a big jump in payroll employment but a sharp fall in labor force participation,” Chad Stone, chief economist with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said in a news release. “The labor market is clearly much stronger than in the depths of the Great Recession, but still far from the ‘maximum employment’ goal that Congress has mandated the Federal Reserve to pursue.

“Long-term unemployment remains a particular concern,” Stone said, “highlighting why Congress must restore federal emergency jobless benefits — which it allowed to lapse at the end of 2013 and has not restored even though long-term unemployment remains substantially higher than when any of the previous seven emergency programs expired.”

Stone said that Federal Reserve System Chair, Janet Yellen identified the significantly large share of the unemployed Americans who have been out of work for six months or longer as one key element along with the still-high unemployment rate, that the labor market is a long way from normal and that the Federal Reserve System needs to aggressively pursue its maximum employment goals. Stone said over a third of the nation’s unemployed — 35.3 percent in April have been looking for work for six months or longer.

“Before the Great Recession, this figure had never topped 26 percent, in data that go back to the late 1940s, and it reached that percentage in only one month in the 1980s,” Stone said. “The long-term unemployment rate is the share of the labor force — people aged 16 and older who either are working or actively looking for work for more than six months. At 2.2 percent in April, that rate is much lower than its 4.4 percent peak in April of 2010.

“Nevertheless, it remains higher than at any time before the Great Recession, except in the immediate aftermath of the deep 1981-82 recession, when it peaked at 2.6 percent,” he said. “At that time, however, policymakers did not end emergency federal jobless benefits until March 1985, when long-term unemployment had dropped to 1.2 percent.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics April report, employers nationally added 288,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent, with 9.8 million Americans still unemployed. For whites nationally, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent and 11.6 percent for African Americans, which is 2.6 percent higher than at the start of the recession.

The report also showed that the civilian labor force declined by 806,000 in April, following an increase of 503,000 in March. This means 806,000 fewer people were in the work force because of either retirement or they stopped looking for work.

“Earlier we learned that economic growth largely stalled at the start of the year,” Speaker of the House John Boehner reportedly stated. Boehner is under pressure to push through an extension on unemployment benefits that are set to expire in a month. “And while it’s welcome news that more of our friends and neighbors found work in the past month, the report also indicated that more than 800,000 Americans left the workforce last month, which is troubling. We need more robust economic growth if we’re going to help the millions who remain unemployed get back on their feet. House Republicans have made the people’s priorities our priorities, passing jobs bill after jobs bill to expand opportunity and economic security for middle-class families. President Obama ought to call on his Democratic-led Senate to take up the stacks of House-passed jobs measures so we can get this economy moving again.”