PA Employment Picture Brightens in April

The statewide unemployment rate fell by three-tenths of a percentage point in April, to 7.6%.  Employment numbers climbed 13,000, while unemployment dipped by 17,000.  “April was a tremendous month for job growth and the state’s employment situation,” Secretary of Labor & Industry Julia Hearthway said in a statement released on Friday. “Pennsylvania has added 125,700 private sector jobs to the economy since Governor Corbett took office.” 

But a spokesman for the House Democrats, who are among the governor’s harshest critics, calls the growth anemic compared to the nearly half-million Pennsylvanians who are still looking for work.

Pennsylvania’s jobless rate remains at or above the national average for a ninth consecutive month.  The national unemployment rate now stands at 7.5%.

Behind the Numbers of the Jobs Debate

Statistics ultimately led to Governor Tom Corbett’s now-infamous drug test comments.  The launching point for the entire conversation on this month’s edition of “Ask the Governor” was a statistic ranking Pennsylvania 49th among states when it comes to job growth.

Democrats and other Corbett critics are harping on the figure, but the governor says there’s more to the story.  “There’s an old saying that Mark Twain said.  There’s three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics,” Corbett quipped early on in the “Ask the Governor” conversation. “It’s a matter of when you look at the number, at what point in time you look at the number.” 

But what about that job growth ranking as it stands today?  Corbett’s Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway tells Radio PA that it’s being taken out of context:HEARTHWAY

Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hanger says it’s a spin game the Corbett administration can’t win.  “I don’t think if you talk with most Pennsylvanians that they have found… that their job prospects have improved over the past year.” 

The longer Governor Corbett has been in office, Hanger says, the worse the jobs crisis gets.  “His best year was his first year, his worst year has been the last 12-months,” he says.  “We’ve literally, essentially, had no job growth with this governor in the last 12-months.  Zero.”    

The March jobs report from the Department of Labor & Industry includes two data sets.  The numbers used to calculate the 7.9% unemployment rate in March indicate a 0.5% year-to-year increase in employment.  The seasonally adjusted non-farm job numbers indicate regression to the tune of -0.1% from March 2012 – March 2013.

“Ask the Governor” Comments Spark Firestorm

While discussing the state’s 7.9% unemployment rate on Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program, Governor Tom Corbett expressed concern that many employers can’t find qualified employees who can pass a drug test.  The comments went viral in a matter of hours, with the Pennsylvania Democratic Party asserting that it’s just the latest example of Corbett blaming Pennsylvanians for the state of the economy. 

Out-of-touch and insulting were just two of the words Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord used to describe the comments in a statement released on Tuesday.  “I talk with hundreds of business owners and business leaders every year and this has not been brought up to me,” McCord later told Radio PA of the drug test issue.  “So I’m not sure that that’s a real issue, and it sounds like it’s a blame-the-victim distraction game.” 

But Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway says employers across the state are sharing drug test concerns with her too.  “It’s very difficult to quantify, but it’s certainly an issue that identifies one employment barrier that exists out there,” she explains. 

For safety and insurance reasons zero-tolerance drug policies are often imposed in various industries, including manufacturing.  “This issue is very real.  The governor is absolutely right, and if anything I hope that this is a teachable moment for the public,” says Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association executive director David N. Taylor, “because I don’t think a lot of people – especially younger people – realize that by being recreational drug users they, in many instances, are rendering themselves unemployable.”

Taylor says there are 6,000 – 7,000 good manufacturing jobs for which employers can’t find qualified employees.  While there are numerous factors driving that figure, he contends that failure to pass a drug test is absolutely one of them.

Labor Secretary Defends PA Jobs Climate

Through three weeks of state budget hearings Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) has repeatedly pointed out the fact that – for the first time in years – Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is now worse than the national average.  So he took issue with Labor & Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway’s positive assessment of the state’s economy.  “How can you sit here and say – we were 8th in job creation, now we’re 34th in new job creation – that we’re going in the right direction?”

Hearthway was ready with her response.  On the job creation issue she notes that 42-states lost more jobs than Pennsylvania did during the recession, so some of them are now posting sharper increases simply because they have more ground to make up. 

As for the state’s persistently high unemployment rate, Hearthway cautioned that we can’t look at any of these figures in a vacuum.  “When you grow your labor force… you’re unemployment’s going to show higher,” she explained. 

Hearthway boasts of a state labor force that now stands at 6.56-million, breaking records in each of the past four months.  “That means individuals who have dropped out [of the labor force], not looking, are now looking again… it’s usually the first indicator of your economy coming back strong.” 

The latest numbers, for December 2012, show a 7.9% statewide unemployment rate.  A new jobs report may shed some more light on the situation.  It’s due out on Friday.

Not Your Average Job Search Website

This new career tool, developed by the state Department of Labor and Industry, isn’t your average job search website.  PA Career Coach is designed to make sure Pennsylvanians are ready for the jobs that become available.  “First, it’s innovative.  Second, it’s common sense,” explains Governor Tom Corbett.  “We don’t always get that combination in state government… but we are working and striving hard to change that.”

Students, displaced workers and others who visit the new website will find out what jobs are in demand in their hometowns, what they can expect to earn and how to find specific training nearby.  Users can also link to current job postings. 

The new job search tool was announced at a news conference inside the Department of Labor and Industry building, where Governor Corbett said the state is growing new job markets like the Marcellus Shale.  “But what good is that growth if Pennsylvania workers don’t know how to break into those job markets?” he asked.  

PA Career Coach is bridging that gap.  Officials say it’s just part of a comprehensive job-matching initiative the Corbett administration will launch later this year. 

Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway demonstrates the PA Career Coach website.

The statewide unemployment rate currently stands at 8.1%.  September’s numbers are scheduled to be released next week.

“Keystone Works” to Launch This Fall

Guidelines are being drafted for a new program called Keystone Works, which could help unemployed Pennsylvanians find a job more quickly.  “Keystone Works will provide an opportunity for the unemployed worker to receive training with a business while continuing to receive their UC benefits, at the same time incentivizing the employers to hopefully hire these unemployed individuals,” says Michelle Staton, deputy secretary for workforce development with the state Department of Labor & Industry.

The worker benefits by staying connected to the workforce, obtaining new skills and receiving job-specific training in a high-priority occupation.  Even if they are not hired at the end of the eight-week program, Staton tells us the new skills will make it easier to find work elsewhere.

The employer benefits because the program helps off-set the cost of training, and offers incentives of up to $1,500 for every trainee they hire.

The new state budget includes $2.5-million dollars to cover the cost of those incentives.  Staton says their goal is to train 2,000 workers in the first year of “Keystone Works.”  The Department of Labor and Industry will be developing a website specifically for individuals and companies interested in Keystone Works.

The statewide jobless rate currently stands at 7.5%.  July’s numbers are expected to be released later this week.

Getting the Most of Your Holiday Job Search

The holiday season can be a mixed bag for job seekers, according to Kevin Collins, Assistant Director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Career and Professional Development Center.  While the job boards may not be flush with openings this time of year, job seekers can take advantage of the lull.  “The best way to put it would be to reconnect, retool and reconsider,” Collins says. 

To reconnect could mean reaching out to contacts you’ve made over the course of the year.  “This is an ideal time to be doing that because, if it’s a business contact, a lot of times their inbox is not getting slammed like it is during the rest of the year.”

To retool, Collins tells us, is to evaluate your resume, cover letters, etc. to ensure they’re reflecting the skills and the message that you want to convey to potential employers.

To reconsider means just that.  If your job search is too narrow, you may want to start considering other industries or geographic regions. 

While Collins emphasizes networking, he warns of mixing your messages too much over the holiday season.  “You don’t want to send Christmas cards out to people and have your resume in it,” Collins quips.  “It’s a little too over the top.” 

Nearly a half-million Pennsylvanians are currently unemployed, according to the latest data from the state Department of Labor & Industry.  The statewide jobless rate has improved for two consecutive months; it now stands at 7.9%.

Unemployment Report Shows PA Job Growth

More people have jobs, and fewer people are looking for work.  That combination has dropped the statewide unemployment rate to 8.1% — down two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month.  It snaps a string of four consecutive months in which Pennsylvania’s jobless rate was moving in the wrong direction.  “It’s a big relief actually to see across the board good news,” says Keystone Research Center Labor Economist Mark Price.

Labor force data released by the Department of Labor & Industry finds that resident unemployment rose by 30,000, while the number of out-of-work Pennsylvanians fell by 11,000.  A separate state report on non-farm jobs cites growth in eight of 11 supersectors.  The biggest gains were in Leisure & Hospitality, which added 4,000 jobs for the month of October.  

Price says the public sector stopped shedding jobs in October, contributing to the positive report.  “We’re still seeing jobs gains in the private sector, and no losses in the public sector combine to make this a better month than we’ve seen in a while,” Price tells Radio PA.  While the unemployment rate hit its recent peak at 8.8% in early 2010, the Keystone State is now out of the woods yet.  Price says it needs to add another 237,000 to get back to what economists would call full employment.


New Terms of Service for UC Debit Cards

A new company is administering Pennsylvania’s unemployment insurance debit cards, and new terms of service are in place.  According to Department of Labor & Industry spokesman Sean Yeakle, the new agreement offers more free withdrawals and more ATM locations.  “More than 430,000 Pennsylvanians receive unemployment compensation through a debit card, and under the terms of service governing this new program we estimate they’re going to safe about $3.5-million dollars in fees.” 

“That’s money that will go back into the economy and serve struggling Pennsylvanians and their families,” Treasurer Rob McCord said in a statement.  The Department of Labor & Industry and Treasury Department had been working together to reduce fees – many of which are uncommon to traditional debit card users – under the new agreement with ACS. 

Under the new service terms, Wells-Fargo ATMs will now be considered out-of network.  PNC Bank and MoneyPass ATMs will be considered in-network.  Gone is the “denial fee,” which had been applied if an attempted withdrawal exceeded available funds.  However, out-of-network ATM transactions will see fees increase from $1.50 to $1.75.  Impacted Pennsylvanians can learn more online.    

Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system started going “paperless” in 2007.  Today, all payments are made electronically.  “That’s definitely saving Pennsylvania taxpayers money in terms of the millions of dollars associated with printing and mailing the checks, and it’s also reduces the opportunity for fraud,” Yeakle says.