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%.
On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul review a week that put Radio PA’s “Ask the Governor” program in the national spotlight following comments by Governor Tom Corbett regarding the unemployed and drug testing. As always, video clips from that show are also available here on PAMatters.com.
Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.
Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:[audio:https://s3.amazonaws.com/witfaudio/radiopa/Roundtable05-03-13.mp3]
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.”
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.
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.
As a busy week in Washington DC began winding down, Radio PA caught up with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) for a wide-ranging interview. Fresh off of a briefing on an 844-page immigration bill, Casey said he believes an immigration overhaul is highly likely this year. “I wouldn’t have said that six months ago,” Casey explained. “If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said that immigration reform is years away not months away.”
A bipartisan group of four Democrats and four Republicans has crafted a plan that would both create a path to citizenship for some of the 11-million people in the country illegally, and significantly beef up security along the Mexican border.
But just because a piece of legislation is a bipartisan compromise, that doesn’t guarantee passage. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) spearheaded the bipartisan compromise on expanded background checks for gun sales, which failed in the Senate this week.
Senator Casey was among the 54-supporters, but the amendment needed 60-votes to advance. “It was a bad day for the Senate and I think a bad day for the country,” Casey says, “but it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up and it doesn’t mean that the American people will in any way be satisfied with just one day’s worth of voting and then we move on for another decade.”
Casey’s views on gun legislation have shifted since December’s tragedy in Newtown Connecticut. In addition to expanded background checks, he’d like to see federal bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
With so many issues before Congress these days, Casey stresses that he doesn’t want to lose sight of the jobs issue. Along those lines, he’s pushing an extended tax break that he hopes will help the restaurant industry grow its payrolls. The bipartisan bill would permanently extend the 15-year tax depreciation period for restaurants’ construction and renovation projects. The tax break used to be spread out over 39-years. “The only problem is that – if we don’t pass my bill – it will revert back to 39-years, which doesn’t provide the right kind of incentive you would want for a restaurant to grow and expand.”
The restaurant industry has a $17-billion dollar economic impact in Pennsylvania and employees 500,000 people statewide.
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