Rough retail environment cited as regional labor force contracts

For the first time since 1992, the Capital Region’s labor force shrank in November, as beleaguered r
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For the first time since 1992, the Capital Region’s labor force shrank in November, as beleaguered retailers failed to provide their traditional holiday job boost, according to statistics released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

The region’s nonfarm labor force ended November with 452,800 jobs, down 1,200 from November 2007. During the same period, the area’s unemployment rate also climbed to a 16-year high for the month at 5.2 percent, up from 4.8 percent in October.

Weighing heavily on the labor force was the loss of 1,100 retail jobs over the year, leaving the sector with 50,200 workers. With retailers bracing for their softest holiday shopping season since 2002, many have curbed seasonal hiring. Other large retail chains, such as Linens N’ Things in Colonie, have closed all or most of their stores.

And the sector’s outlook is not improving, especially with last week’s ice storm temporarily putting many retailers out of commission. A snow storm in the coming weekend’s forecast may not be helpful, either.

“The industry as a whole is going to have a tough December. So I’m not expecting any bounceback,” said Labor Department Market Analyst James Ross.

Only 32 percent of retailers statewide said they were pleased with sales activity in the two weeks after Black Friday, according to a Retail Council of New York State survey released Wednesday. Sixty percent of merchants surveyed said sales for that two-week period were down from 2007’s levels.

Driving the rise in unemployment were waves of mass layoffs that started to hit the region this autumn. East Greenbush drywall manufacturer National Gypsum and Saratoga Springs financial consulting firm Ayco Co. were among the employers chopping payrolls last month. Latham hydrogen fuel cell manufacturer Plug Power announced Thursday plans to eliminate 90 jobs and Super Steel Products is preparing to close its Glenville plant in April, eliminating 175 jobs.

Not counting losses in state and local governments, the region’s private sector in November shrunk by only 500 jobs to 344,200. Overall, government lost 700 jobs.

There was growth in the educational and health services and professional, scientific and technical services sectors, which since last November added 1,800 and 1,300 jobs, respectively.

The state in November experienced its first over-the-month employment drop since October 2001, as its labor force shrank by 23,500 to 7.23 million. New York’s unemployment rate rose to 6.3 percent — its highest level since April 2004.

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