Jobless rate goes back up to 7%; state figure reaches 26-year high

The unemployment rate in the Capital Region showed more volatility in December, bouncing back up to
Espey Manufacturing chairman and CEO Howard Pinsley speaks after a news conference by state officials at the Saratoga Springs business on Thursday.
Espey Manufacturing chairman and CEO Howard Pinsley speaks after a news conference by state officials at the Saratoga Springs business on Thursday.

The unemployment rate in the Capital Region showed more volatility in December, bouncing back up to 7 percent for the third time in 2009.

“This shows that businesses are still nervous and that they’re afraid to hire,” said state Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith.

Unemployment rates for November and October were 6.7 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Jobless rates in the region peaked last February at 7.6 percent.

Since December 2008, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area has lost 9,300 nonfarm jobs, a 2.1 percent drop. The number of private sector jobs fell 1.6 percent, or 5,500.

“The job counts are continuing to deteriorate and the unemployment rate is remaining stubbornly high,” said Jim Ross, state labor analyst. “But really, until we get the job creation going, the unemployment rates aren’t going to come down.”

January and February are typically the points in the year when job counts are lowest, which means next month could prove to be worse, according to Ross.

The state’s unemployment rate hit a 26-year high in December, 9 percent, as 868,600 New Yorkers were without jobs.

Thursday’s grim news came down from the state Department of Labor even as it tried to place focus on the parts of the region’s economy that are growing.

“The Capital Region is doing well in the recession,” said Smith.

At a news conference at Espey Manufacturing in Saratoga Springs, Smith said she not only wanted to give an example of a company that is growing, but also wanted to show that there are services out there that will save them money and help them focus on growing and hiring again instead of cutting costs.

Espey Chairman and CEO Howard Pinsley said the company is looking to fill a half dozen positions, mostly welders, solderers and laminators.

The company has 170 employees but during the 1950s employed around 500 people. Employment levels have hovered around the 200 mark in recent years.

Espey, one of the nation’s top defense contractors, is expected to have a record year and continue the positive trend when it reports its second-quarter earnings in the upcoming weeks, Pinsley said. The company’s fiscal year ends in June.

Human resources administrative assistant Donna Lyons said more than 30 percent of the company’s work force will likely enter retirement in the next five to 10 years.

Four people started working for the company this month and another four are set to start working next month, she said. “We are constantly training,” said Lyons.

Espey was the recipient of state help four years ago to help it administer lean manufacturing training for employees, Pinsley said, which helped them reduce costs.

“We are doing it again,” Pinsley said — more lean training began two months ago.

Smith said the state offers other programs to help businesses save time and money, including human resource services like preparing employee handbooks, tax credits for hiring veterans, disabled veterans or food stamp recipients, and other free services to help companies avoid thousands of dollars they would otherwise shell out in consulting fees.

The state’s work force initiative also includes programs from Empire State Development, such as the Manufacturing Assistance Program; the Community Development Financial Institution Assistance Program, which provides microloans and financial counseling; the Linked Deposit Program, to help companies get reduced-rate financing; and the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program for new businesses and businesspeople.

Smith said Gov. David Paterson has written to congressional delegates advocating for the continuance of the summer youth program that the state had last year along with other programs to help businesses.

There are bright spots in the state’s economy, both Ross and Smith pointed out.

Although still high, the number of people laid off is down based on unemployment claims, Ross said.

More job openings are appearing on the state’s Web site, though not enough to overcome the job losses.

“Looking at temp agencies, there does seem to be some increased activity,” Ross said. “As businesses are not yet confident the recovery is going to hold they’ll bring on temporary workers before permanent workers.”

Smith also said much of the stimulus dollars awarded to the state for construction projects has yet to be used.

“The rest are in the works,” Smith said. “You’re going to see it in the spring when construction starts.”

Jobless rates

Non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for Capital Region counties in December 2009, November 2009 and December 2008:

Albany: 6.6% 6.4% 5.6%

Fulton: 10.4% 9.5% 8.9%

Montgomery:  9.7% 8.9% 8.7%

Rensselaer: 7.5% 7.1% 6.1%

Saratoga: 6.7% 6.3% 5.6%

Schenectady: 7.5% 7.3% 6.0%

Schoharie: 9.2% 7.8% 8.7%

Source: state Department of Labor

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