Jobless rate falls to 5-year low

Posted: December 08, 2013

Wall Street responded happily all day Friday to the morning's good news from the Labor Department: The nation's jobless rate fell to a five-year low as payrolls expanded by 203,000 jobs in November.

The unemployment rate of 7.0 percent was down from 7.3 percent in October and the lowest since November 2008, when it was 6.8 percent.

But a day earlier, the mood at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project was anything but buoyant, as once again the advocacy group prepares to engage in what has become an annual ritual - trying to persuade Congress to renew federally funded emergency unemployment benefits. They expire Dec. 28.

Without congressional action, 1.3 million unemployed people nationally, including 86,900 in Pennsylvania, 90,300 in New Jersey, and 3,600 in Delaware, stand to lose as much as 37 weeks of benefits, according to estimates prepared by the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Nationally, according to Friday's Labor Department report, the economy added jobs in warehousing, manufacturing, health care, business and professional services, retail, hospitality, and construction.

The effect of federal government workers returning from layoffs after the October shutdown was seen in a decline in the number of people unemployed for less than five weeks and a decline in the number reporting being on temporary layoff.

However, federal government hiring continued its decline, dropping 7,000 workers in November. State and local governments added employees.

"Business hiring is clearly improving, and the job gains were in just about every sector," said Joel Naroff, president and chief economist of Naroff Economic Advisers Inc. in Bucks County. "Maybe the most positive sign was strong hiring in manufacturing," up 27,000 jobs.

Locally, the job situation seems much less positive.

Layoff notices filed with the State of New Jersey last month became effective today for 136 Bank of America employees in Marlton.

In November, Lockheed Martin Corp. announced that it would close its Newtown facility, putting between 800 and 1,000 people out of work in the next year. In Lockheed's Moorestown facility, layoffs began last month for 240 people.

Drugmaker Merck & Co. will lay off 500 people from its facility in West Point between Dec. 23 and Jan. 5.

And on Tuesday, Ocwen Financial Corp. handed out pink slips to nearly half of its Fort Washington workforce, laying off 244 who work in mortgage servicing.

"It's hard to get jobs," said Catherine Stewart, 56, of North Philadelphia, a home health aide who lost her job in March when her client became too sick to live at home.

At the Philadelphia Unemployment Project's Center City offices Thursday, Stewart said she was eager to join other unemployed people on a planned bus trip to Washington to persuade politicians not to stop the benefits.

Stewart now relies, as her sole income, on the $246 she gets every two weeks in unemployment benefits.

"It's tight," she said. Her benefits would end Dec. 28.

In October, Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 7.5 percent and New Jersey's 8.4 percent, both above October's national rate of 7.3 percent, according to the most recent Labor Department state employment statistics. Delaware's was 6.8 percent.

States fund the first six months of benefits. In 2008, as the recession was worsening, Congress authorized additional federally funded benefits.

The number of federally funded weeks of benefits varies by state according to employment conditions. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, laid-off people receive a total of 63 weeks of benefits - 37 of them federally funded.

More than a third of all unemployed people have been out of a job for more than six months - the largest group of unemployed.

Of the 10.9 million unemployed in November, 4.1 million, or more than a third, are long-term unemployed.

In another worrying sign, the median duration of unemployment, which had fallen to 15.7 weeks in July, has crept up to 17 weeks. A year ago, it was 18.9 weeks.

When the recession began six years ago in December 2007, the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent. The recession officially ended in June 2009, but unemployment continued to rise, hitting 10 percent in Oct. 2010 before beginning to improve.


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

www.inquirer.com/jobbing

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