Jobless rate dips to 8.8%; the pain isn’t gone

Posted: April 01, 2011

In a sign of an improving economy, the nation's employment expanded by 216,000, the unemployment rate slipped to 8.8 percent, and Kathy Snead, a laid off legal secretary, has a job interview Monday.

The official statistics come from the U.S. Labor Department, which released its closely watched "Employment Situation" report Friday.

Snead got four phone calls in four days last week about job possibilities. "That hasn't happened the whole time I've been looking," she said.

What Snead, 56, of South Philadelphia, is experiencing in her personal job search dovetails nicely with Friday's encouraging government report. "I think things are going in the right direction, but slowly," she said.

Stephen Jurash, head of the Manufacturing Alliance of Philadelphia, agrees, but is more optimistic.

"We're not talking recession anymore. We're talking recovery," he said, adding that city manufacturers have openings for skilled welders, and machinists.

Even so, the average length of unemployment continued to rise - to 39 weeks from 37.1 weeks in February - and the percentage of those unemployed 27 weeks or more now stands at 45.5 percent, up from 43.9 percent. The unemployed number 13.5 million.

Snead noticed that, as well.

"That's 6.1 million people," she said, describing the long-term unemployed.

Snead's background is a bit unusual. She has an undergraduate degree in labor economics and got as far as her doctoral dissertation before a divorce and the need to support her children got in the way of her studies at Penn.

"I think we should be doing more to help the long-term unemployed," she said. "People think there is something wrong with these people and that just feeds on itself. A lot of them are in industries that have shed jobs. They may need training to do something else."

Snead lost her job in January 2008. Her field, law, is still down, losing 2,900 jobs in March.

February's unemployment rate was 8.9 percent.

Overall, the private sector contributed 230,000 jobs for the month. Nationally, manufacturing grew by 17,000 jobs, the Labor Department said.

The national news is reflected in Philadelphia, according to data from Monster.com, which tracks online job postings in the Philadelphia area. March's area job postings were up 40 percent from last year, with the year-to-year increases in construction, transportation and material moving, production, installation and repair, and education.

Whether the education gains will remain, given threatened government funding cutbacks for colleges and public schools, is still an unknown. Government hiring fell in March, with 18,900 jobs lost nationally at the state and local government level, the Labor Department said.

David M. Schaaf, business manager with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 380 in Collegeville, confirms - but just barely - Monster's data about increases in construction, which has been walloped in the recession.

"I'm seeing some activity, but it's slow," said Schaaf. Unemployment in his local is relatively low, he said, but he still has electricians out of work for nine months.

Local 380's work at area pharmaceutical companies is way down, but electricians will build a new 146-bed hospital in East Norriton Township.

"That's going to put 50 to 60 people to work in the next month or so," he said.

Nationally, construction hiring declined slightly, by 1,000 jobs - still down, but the loss is less than it has been.

Hiring is up in nearly every category. Strongest were business and professional services, adding 78,000 jobs. Accountants, architects, engineers and computer systems people were hired.

Nonfarm payroll unemployment in February was revised up to 194,000 from 192,000.

Job fairs provide their own category of economic barometer and the job fair for veterans held Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field was no exception. Last year, 30 businesses came. This year, 40 employers set up booths.

At 9.0 percent in March, the unemployment rate for veterans has been running higher than for the population as a whole. The unemployment rate for veterans who served from September 2001 to now runs even higher - 10.9 percent in March.

Soldiers coming out of active duty have not had as much time to develop the kind of job networks that typically lead to employment, explained Matthew Murphy, chief operating officer for Recruit Military, an Ohio company that produced Thursday's job fair and runs similar ones around the nation.

March turned out to be a mixed month for the Cozy family. At the beginning of the month, both father and son were out of work. They described their situation in an interview in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bob Casey, 53, an electrician, had been out of work since October 2008, except for a few odd jobs. His son, Todd, 21, lost his job setting gravestones in January.

The situation got so bad that the family had to sell their home and move in with his wife's sister in Mantua, Gloucester County. The series led to an interview for Bob Casey, who began work March 28, Bob Casey began work at the University of the Arts. "It's very exciting to be back at work," he said.

His son is still looking.


Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phillynews.com.

The Looking for Work series continues on Mondays at www.philly.com/jobless60. Scroll down to read about Kathy Snead and the Cozy family.

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