U.S. jobless claims dip, but Pa., N.J. still struggle

Posted: August 24, 2013

For the first time since the start of the recession in late 2007, the number of people filing initial claims for unemployment insurance in the month fell to 330,500 a week on average, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

The news buoyed Wall Street, but the national story isn't what's happening in the Philadelphia region.

"Philadelphia's economy has struggled this summer," said Ryan Sweet, an economist with Moody's Analytics in West Chester.

The last time the national number was so low was in November 2007 - the month before the official start of what economists have described as the worst recession since the Great Depression.

"The economy seems to be picking up some steam as the labor market continues to improve," said economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in Bucks County.

Each Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department publishes two key statistics: how many people have filed initial claims for jobless benefits the previous week - in this case the week ended Saturday - and a moving average of the last four weeks.

The moving average was Thursday's record-setter. Initial claims for the week were actually up - by 13,000 to 336,000, compared with the previous week.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey were identified in the report as two of 10 states with the highest unemployment among those covered by unemployment insurance.

"Philadelphia has taken a beating and has taken a while to recover," said Sweet, who specializes in Pennsylvania's economy.

"I think, going forward, that it will begin to heal more quickly," he said.

Unemployment claims are a good indicator of the current economy, but they are not complete.

An increasing number of jobless people do not qualify for unemployment insurance as states, including Pennsylvania, have restricted eligibility.

Sweet said the layoff of thousands of public school employees in June affected the region's statistics.

On Wednesday, however, the union that represents lunchroom aides learned that the Philadelphia School District would recall hundreds of those workers, a Unite Here Local 634 official said Thursday.

Looking back over the year, the unemployment rate has stayed the same in the wider Philadelphia area, comparing June 2013 - the Labor Department's most recent statistics - with June 2012.

That pattern held in the city and nearby Pennsylvania counties. Unemployment fell in Camden, Gloucester, and Burlington Counties, but rose in the Wilmington area.

Statewide statistics, adjusted for seasonal hiring, showed yearly improvement in July.

In New Jersey, July's unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent from 9.7 percent a year ago and 8.7 percent in June.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate has remained at 7.5 percent for the last three months, but is down from 8.1 percent a year ago.

In New Jersey, hiring increased in every sector over the year, but declined in most sectors over the summer.

In South Jersey, "it's a problem in manufacturing," said Sohini Chowdhury, the Moody's Analytics economist who specializes in New Jersey.

North Jersey's mainstay - the financial industry - saw increased hiring in the summer.

Pennsylvania's economy was more uneven, with expanded hiring over the year offset by continued declines in construction, trade, retail, and government hiring. Declines continued over the summer.

Even the state's stalwarts - the health and education sectors - declined slightly.

Contact Jane Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews.com, @JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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