Pa. jobless rate climbed to 5-year high in August

September 23, 2008 1:09:15 PM PDT
Pennsylvania's unemployment rate climbed to a five-year high in August, as tens of thousands of residents began looking for work while the number of jobs continued to shrink, state officials said Friday. The 5.8 percent jobless rate announced by the Department of Labor and Industry was the highest since April 2003. The rate was up from 5.4 percent in July and up from 4.4 percent in August 2007.

The ranks of Pennsylvanians seeking employment swelled by 31,000 last month to 372,000, as relentlessly high energy costs, sluggish income growth and declining home prices continued to take their toll on family finances. Meanwhile, the number of nonfarm jobs declined by 5,900 statewide and the total hovered just over 5.8 million.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who on Tuesday ordered a state government hiring freeze and spending cuts to save $200 million in what he described as pre-emptive action to avert a budget shortfall, said Pennsylvania has weathered the national economic downturn better than many other states.

"Since the beginning of the year, when we began to see the downward trend the national economy was taking, Pennsylvania's economy has performed well," he said in a statement.

The national unemployment rate for August was 6.1 percent.

Pennsylvania's jobless rate has been below the national rate for four straight months, state officials said.

Economists said the state job statistics are in line with the national trend and warned against reading too much into the latest monthly report.

"One month of data doesn't start a trend," said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist with Moody's Economy.com, an economic consulting firm.

Robert Dye, vice president and senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, said he believes the nation is in a recession and predicted that unemployment will continue to rise through early 2009.

Reviving the housing industry, which should spur new construction, and creating a broad array of jobs are crucial to recovery, he said.

While major layoffs have been rare in many industries, employers have shown an "extreme reluctance to hire," Dye said.

In August, the number of jobs declined in all but two sectors - education and health services, which grew by 4,300, and natural resources and mining, which gained 200 jobs. The number of construction jobs remained stable.


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