Low unemployment and a bit of a labor shortage are persisting in the Capital Region.
The state Department of Labor on Tuesday reported preliminary jobless rates for the month of July, and once again the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area had one of the best in the state: 4.3 percent, compared with 4.2 percent in July 2016. Only the Glens Falls metro area was lower in July 2017, at 4.2 percent. The Dutchess-Putnam metro area was tied for second place at 4.3 percent.
Within the Capital Region, perennial standout Saratoga County had the second-lowest county jobless rate in the state, 3.8 percent. Columbia County was lowest at 3.6 percent.
The Department of Labor’s Capital Region labor market analyst, James Ross, said the continuing low unemployment can create some problems for employers as they try to fill vacant positions.
“Going forward, one of the big issues we’re seeing is the retirement of the baby boom generation,” he said Tuesday. “There’s just so much of a replacement need.”
One thing working in the Capital Region’s favor is that it’s one of the few parts of upstate New York that is seeing a net inflow of residents, he added. The larger counties in the metropolitan area — Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady — have all notched population gains in the past decade, enough to outweigh the mostly rural counties that have held steady or lost population.
But despite this there is a labor shortage, he said, particularly for skilled jobs. Many of those who are unemployed have gaps in skill sets needed for the jobs that are available, Ross said.
The shortage spans most industries and job titles, said Capital Region Chamber CEO Mark Eagan, regardless of the size and nature of the employer.
His counterpart to the north, Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce President Todd Shimkus, said the labor market has been very tight in the Saratoga area all year, not just in the busy summer racing season. The chamber recently wrapped up a six-month digital ad campaign to attract job-seekers; it targeted the entire region within a 30-minute drive of Saratoga Springs and brought good results, but not enough to be considered a solution, he added.
Feeling the labor shortage keenly are nonprofits like the Schenectady ARC. Executive Director Kirk Lewis said the ARC is running around 82 percent of optimal workforce, which would be about 600.
“I could fill 100,” he said. “It’s probably the worst for our vacancies that we’ve ever seen. The wage issue is part of it, but low unemployment is another part of it.”
The “wage issue” is the low starting pay for many ARC employees, which he blames on state the state increasing its reimbursements only once in the last decade.
ARC serves about 1,000 clients, mostly in Schenectady County, and while it can’t deny services to existing clients, twice in recent years Schenectady ARC has declined to take on new duties because it is so short-handed. The staff often works overtime to provide the services developmentally disabled clients need.
“They aren’t able to use their vacation,” Lewis said. “It’s put a lot of pressure on our workforce.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a dollar in 2000 would have the purchasing power of $1.39 today, had it appreciated at the rate of inflation calculated by the U.S. Consumer Price Index. A worker’s salary would need to increase 39 percent over that period to keep up with the CPI, which measures the price of more than 200 consumer goods and services.
State Department of Labor wage and workforce statistics indicate that average pay is keeping ahead of inflation in the Capital Region, which it defines as Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, and Washington counties.
From 2000 to 2016, the number of people employed here grew 5.9 percent from 492,492 to 521,745 and their average annual wages jumped 53.9 percent from $33,153 to $51,026.
The Capital Region’s numbers are poor to average to very good, depending on what they are being compared to.
In the neighboring Mohawk Valley region (Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego and Schoharie counties), the number of workers working shrank 4.3 percent from 197,448 to 188,897 between 2000 and 2016 and the average annual wage rose 52.2 percent from $26,256 to $39,958.
New York state as a whole went from an average wage of $45,358 in 2000 to $67,941 in 2016, a 49.8 percent increase.
Federal statistics for 2001 and 2016 — the closest comparable period available — show the average annual wage jumping 48 percent from $36,219 to $53,611 as the workforce increased 9.4 percent to reach 141,866,449.
Annual wages can vary greatly within any given sector. For example, in the Capital Region’s health care/social assistance sector, 22,151 hospital employees averaged $51,959 in annual salary for 2016, 17,077 nursing and residential care facility employees averaged $31,884, and 13,793 social assistance employees averaged $25,405.
Subsectors can vary even more: The Capital Region’s 220 general practice physicians have a 2017 median salary calculated at $178,290; 11,610 registered nurses a median $63,980; and 4,590 home health aides a median $24,720.
Personnel recruiter Miriam Dushane said the tight labor market makes her business good but her work more challenging: More companies turn to her for help hiring, and she has to work harder to find candidates.
As the upstate New York managing director for the recruiting division of Colonie-based Linium, she has 40 to 50 openings to fill at a given time and only about 60 to 70 candidates for them.
“The economy in the Capital Region right now is great,” she said. “It definitely makes it much harder to recruit quality workers. For a staffing company, it’s actually a good thing. It’s very difficult to find good workers.”
Dushane sees upward pressure on wages across the board — even her son’s summer job at Dunkin’ Donuts pays $11 an hour, which would have been unheard-of not too long ago, she said, and would have been an astronomical sum in her own summer-job days.
Linium recruits heavily in the high-wage technology sector but also recruits lower-paid support employees. Dushane gets applicants eager to work for $18 to $20 an hour as administrative assistants but many lack the skills to do so; those who do have the skills can pick from higher-paid jobs.
“The companies that are paying more are generally going to get a better supply of workers and sometimes a better caliber of worker,” she added.
MVP Health Care uses a combination of wages and other incentives to keep itself staffed, said Lynn Manning, vice president, human resources.
The Schenectady-based health insurer currently has about 50 job openings — not a huge number for a company that employs 1,600, but a lot of people to find in a tough labor market.
“It certainly makes for challenges in hiring,” Manning acknowledged.
But the average time to fill jobs has been declining, and is now 57 or 58 days, she said. She said MVP, as a non-profit, won’t offer the highest wages in any given occupational sector, but it reviews the salary scales and adjusts them to remain competitive. More important in the effort to recruit and retain employees is the workplace atmosphere and company culture MVP has created, she said.
“We’ve been working really hard to make this a place where people want to be,” Manning said. “Some of the work we’ve done at MVP in recent years … has brought really good people to us.”
She singled out Paid Volunteer Day, which MVP instituted to give employees time to get out in the community and do volunteer work, on company time. She took advantage of it herself, and went with some coworkers to a Schenectady Inner City Ministry summer lunch site, read some donated books to the children there, then gave them the books.
“Some of the kids never had their own books before,” Manning said.
The satisfaction from such an experience, she said, multiplied by 1,600, is just one of the ways MVP creates a place where people want to work, which is an important advantage in recruiting.
“That has resulted for us in really great hirings,” she said. “Do we have to work really hard at it? Sure.”
HARD WORK AND LUCK
For Pat Popolizio, owner of The Waters Edge Lighthouse restaurant in Glenville, running a popular restaurant in a great location has eased the burden of finding employees.
“Overall, I think those guys are right on,” he said of all the people reporting a labor shortage and explaining why it exists. But his restaurant has been an exception because restaurant workers look for jobs in busy restaurants in the hope that there will be a lot of tips rolling in. “What happens with us, good people look for busy restaurants … good people look for good restaurants,” Popolizio said.
“We’re kind of blessed a little bit with a good reputation and some of the right things happening at the right time.”
That would be a location on increasingly busy Freeman’s Bridge Road; a new hotel next door; and two more hotels, an apartment building, and a casino just across the river in Schenectady.
Then there’s the river itself, with boat slips and a new canopy over the outdoor dining area, so that people can eat outside when it’s raining.
“You know what’s happening with us, at the risk of sounding too proud, most of our people have seven, eight, nine years of experience here, they all like each other,” Popolizio said.
That holds true even with the extra help he brings on in the summer, he added. “Usually people hang in there three or four years while they’re going to college, sometimes they start in high school.”
He expects the flow of diners to even out and thinks he will need less of a seasonal workforce in the future, though.
“We’re a little bit seasonal, but now with the casino and the hotel, it’s probably going to be the same business year-round.”
July jobless rates
The following unemployment rates were reported Tuesday by the state Department of Labor for counties in the greater Capital Region:
|July 2017||July 2016|
|New York state||4.9||5.0|