For more than two decades, Mary Lou Roux has taught a certified nursing assistant course at Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
In a telling sign of the Mohawk Valley’s economic ailments, demand for Roux’s CNA classes was so high over the summer that she ended up running two sessions instead of one.
“[The economy] is a driving force right now at this level,” said Roux, who was recently named the continuing education instructor of the year by the Continuing Education Association of New York.
With Fulton and Montgomery counties’ unemployment rates pushing into the 7 percent range in September, hospitals and nursing homes are among the few businesses hiring. On Monday, Roux will start a new 120-hour CNA course for 27 students.
“If you have a CNA, there’s a job out there waiting for you,” said Reid Smalley, the director of continuing education and work force development at FMCC in Johnstown.
But there are not many other jobs out there waiting for Americans. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that the nation’s unemployment rate in October jumped to 6.5 percent, marking a 14-year high. The unemployment rate rose four-tenths of a percentage point from September as employers chopped 240,000 workers off payrolls.
Over the past 10 months, the nation has lost 1.2 million jobs, with more than half of the cuts coming in the past three months.
The economic picture is bleaker in Fulton County, which had one of the state’s highest unemployment rates in September. The county lost 118 jobs when Callaway Golf in July closed its Gloversville golf ball manufacturing plant and shipped its work to China.
Reflecting the lingering impacts of the plant’s closure, the county’s unemployment rate in September was 7.3 percent. That compares with 5.1 percent a year earlier, according to New York Department of Labor statistics.
September’s spike meant 600 more county residents were out of work than a year ago, totaling 2,000. County Administrator Jon Stead said the high unemployment rate threatens to put more stress on sales tax revenues.
“It’s a concern, but we’re watching and waiting to see how long this impact lasts or whether it will be a short-term thing,” said Stead.
In September, Montgomery County’s unemployment rate was 7 percent and Schoharie County’s rate was 6.2 percent. The New York Labor Department will release the state’s October employment figures Nov. 20.
“We have certainly seen a larger number of people coming through the door,” said Gail Breen, the executive director of the Fulton/Montgomery/Schoharie Workforce Investment Board, a quasi state and federal agency that assists unemployed workers.
During the third quarter, the WIB saw 5,939 people walk through its doors, up 9.5 percent from the same period of 2007. Many of those patrons were unemployed workers seeking job placement and retraining services. The WIB has job assistance centers in Cobleskill, Amsterdam and Gloversville.
Breen said some of the affected Callaway workers were picked up by Canajoharie baby food manufacturer Beech-Nut, which in August started hiring 100 people to accommodate an increase in production. Other Callaway workers have gone back to school for academic or continuing education classes, taking advantage of benefits under the Foreign Trade Act because their jobs were shipped overseas.
The back-to-school trend likely contributed to a record high enrollment at FMCC this fall. The college’s fall head count reached 2,402, including 1,552 full-time students.
“We’ve had the highest enrollment we’ve ever had. This is generally what happens when the economy falters,” said Smalley.
The faltering economy in September brought the Capital Region’s unemployment rate to 5.2 percent, the highest reading for that month since 1995. Buoyed by state government and academic institutions, the Albany area’s rate managed to stay below the state’s rate of 5.6 percent.
The growing ranks of out-of-work New Yorkers are threatening to deplete the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. New York is one of five states the National Employment Law Project projects as having less than three months of funds available to pay unemployment benefits. (The other states are Michigan, Indiana, North Carolina and Ohio.) The state in January will likely tap the federal government for funding so it can continue paying unemployment benefits.
“We most likely will borrow money … It’s running low because there are more people applying for unemployment benefits,” said state Labor Department spokesman Leo Rosales.
It will not be the first time the state borrowed money from the U.S. Department of Labor for the trust fund. The state borrowed $161 million in January and $222 million a year earlier.
Maurice Ensellem, the policy co-director of the New York-based National Employment Law Project, said the state largely has itself to blame for its trust fund solvency woes. He said by keeping its unemployment insurance tax too low while the economy was expanding, the state failed to fortify the fund in anticipation of a recession.
“When payrolls were expanding, they were not generating the revenue because the taxes were so low,” Ensellem said.