“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.

Pennsylvania’s Jobless Rate Declines in December

For the third straight month, Pennsylvania is seeing improvement in its unemployment rate. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reports that December’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 7.6%, down three tenths from November and nearly a full point compared to the previous year.  The state’s rate also remained below the national average for the 62nd month in a row.

 The civilian labor force was down by 2 thousand in December but resident employment rose by 11 thousand. The state’s labor force was 25 thousand above December 2010.

Goods producing industries accounted for the majority of the increase. Construction was also up for the month as nine of the state’s 11 supersectors added jobs.

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.