Chester County's unemployment picture continued to brighten as the newly seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell from 3.2 percent in March to 3.0 percent in April.

Beginning with April's numbers, county-by-county unemployment statistics will now be reported on a seasonally adjusted basis to make them more compatible with state and national data, which have long been seasonally adjusted, according to Center for Workforce Information and Analysis expert Lee Olson with the Pennsylvania Departmentof Labor & Industry.

Seasonal adjustment, Olson explained, "removes the effects of events that follow a more or less regular pattern each year (i.e. holidays, weather, opening and closing of schools). These adjustments make it easier to observe the cyclical and other nonseasonal movements."

Commented Steven Cochrane, senior economist with economy.com in West Goshen, "These numbers make it clear that the number of employed persons is up in the county and the number of unemployed persons is down. The employment picture in Chester County is very good. In fact, we're getting closer to a consistent monthly rate of 3 percent, which nears full employment.

"Pretty soon, we may be talking about tight labor markets."

In 1998, the average monthly unemployment rate was 2.7 percent, followed by 2.6 percent in 1999 and again in 2000, 3.0 percent in 2001, 3.8 percent in 2002 and 3.9 percent in 2003.

So far for the first four months of 2004, the average unemployment rate in Chester County stands at 3.5 percent.

These averages have not been adjusted for seasonal factors.

In Pennsylvania, the unemployment rate in April stayed steady at 5.3 percent. Nationwide, the jobless rate was 5.6 percent in April, with the U.S. economy adding 288,000 jobs that month and 337,000 in March.

Cochrane and other economy.com prognosticators believe that the U.S. jobless rate will remain unchanged at 5.6 percent for May. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will release those figures Friday.

Chester County registered the second-lowest unemployment rate among Pennsylvania's 67 counties in April, bested only by Cumberland at 3.0 percent. The five counties with the lowest rate were rounded out by Lebanon and Union at 3.3 percent, Centre and Franklin at 3.4 percent and Lancaster at 3.6 percent.

The news isn't so good for the county's teenagers, however. A nationwide study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston found that only 42 percent of teens hunting for a summer job in 2004 can expect to find one, versus 52 percent in 2000.

One factor making it even more difficult for teens to find gainful summer employment is that retirees wanting to work part-time,unemployed adults and college students still huntingfor work after graduation are making the job scene for teens especially difficult this summer, according to Andrew Sum, executive director of the Northeastern think tank and primary author of the study.

Another interesting fact culled from that study:About 3.2 million teens last year, or 20 percent of those within the 13- to 21-year-old group, were unemployed last year - "unemployed" meaning those who actively searched for work and wanted a job.

Many economists believe that the Federal Reserve Board's open market committee will boost the federal funds rate 1/4-percentage point when it meets June 29 and 30, the first such tightening since mid-2000.

A continuing cloud on the horizon is high energy costs. With per-barrel prices backing off slightly from their all-time nominal high of $42 a barrel Tuesday, prognosticators are still worried that high energy costs may presage another recession.

"Every recession save for one since World War II was preceded by an energy cost run-up," Cochrane noted. (The lone exception:The 1960 recession. A steel strike largely caused it.)

Cochrane believes that recent turmoil in Iraq, plus the slaughter of 22 in Saudi Arabia last weekend, is building a $7 per barrel "risk premium" into the per-barrel cost right now. That risk ought to ease somewhat in the days ahead, as the interim Iraqi government prepares to assume limited sovereignty, he said.

Also, the recent recession-driven spate of layoffs is easing, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement firm. A notable exception is that layoffs continue in such labor-intensive industries as furniture, apparel, textiles and tobacco.

Also, Cochrane noted, many cash-strapped states are in better shape than at any time since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. This is mainly due to the fact that states have tightened their belts several notches since then while tax revenues, from individuals and corporations alike, are on the uptick.

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