Don’t be fooled by the recent unemployment numbers from the state Department of Labor.
While the 4.8 percent jobless rate in September for the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metro area was the lowest since April 2008, there were also 34,200 fewer workers in the labor force, while the area population was increasing.
Labor force numbers are sure to fluctuate every month and also experience seasonal adjustments, but this is a cause for concern, especially in Schenectady, where such numbers are trending downward.
Schenectady’s unemployment rate was at 6.3 percent in September, which was slightly up from 6.0 percent in April. The lowest unemployment rate before then was also back in April 2008.
The city hit a twelve-year high of 31,700 in its labor force in July 2010, but it has since shrunk to 29,600 as of September.
And while the city’s 2013 population count of 65,902 is a tad down from the previous three years — it is higher than every year from 1990 to 2009.
Yet, Schenectady’s monthly labor force numbers and unemployment rates for that time span, especially in the ’90s, were consistently higher than for every month this year.
When unemployment and labor force numbers both drop while the population grows, or at least remains the same, government is usually giving more than it is receiving.
This is being seen on a large scale. National unemployment numbers have been decreasing over the past six years, but millions of Americans have dropped out of the work force and the government is racking up more debt.
The bureau of Labor Statistics states that, “Persons are classified as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior four weeks, and are currently available for work.”
So if you're jobless and haven't looked for one in the past month, you essentially count toward nothing, and the number of Americans who are neither employed nor unemployed is rising annually.
And while hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created every month since 2010, wages are stagnant and the recovery from the recent recession has produced mostly low-wage jobs.
That is why it isn’t far-fetched to think that the quality of jobs currently being created and the wages offered for them are contributing to the rise in the “count for nothing” population.
But that can’t be the only reason and, more importantly, what does it mean for Schenectady?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated that New York is a top-10 state when it comes to job growth over the past four years.
But this growth has predominantly come from the New York City area, while the Capital Region has seen very little job creation.
A decreasing work force in Schenectady, coupled with a rise, or even no growth, in population, can lead to several things. Unfortunately, none of them are good.
The city could continue to experience a loss in property tax revenue, which could end up causing annual tax levy increases. Either that, or leaders would have to cut major services in order to keep the budget tax-increase-free, which is unlikely.
It could also mean that despite the progress the city is making toward the revitalization of residential neighborhoods, more blight and neighborhood deterioration could develop due to abandonment and neglect.
The problem is exacerbated when it comes to the city’s school district, as it has a much bigger budget and continues to suffer from a lack of state aid.
The school board might be forced to tax and cut every year, causing a lot of concern for parents and putting additional pressure on teachers when it comes to the quality of education offered to students.
What can be done to steer Schenectady back on the right track? Nothing is certain, but efforts are being made.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has attempted to lure more businesses to upstate New York with tax-free incentive programs like Start-Up NY.
But I see this having little impact on growing the labor force in Schenectady, even though Schenectady County Community College is taking advantage of the program.
Then there’s the possibility of the New York State Gaming Commission approving the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, which could lead to the creation of 1,200 permanent jobs.
But there is no guarantee that that many jobs will be created, let alone a majority of them going to Schenectady residents.
Lastly, you have Metroplex, which has continued to pour money and attract numerous small businesses into downtown Schenectady for over a decade.
But it isn’t resulting in significant job growth, despite the area flourishing.
It appears that state and local efforts are having little impact on the problem. Why?
Is it because Schenectady is one of the many losers of democratic capitalism? After all, someone always has to lose.
Or maybe there are just too many lazy people and the government offers too many handouts, which is the argument coming from a very vocal minority.
It’s easy to claim that either one is the cause, but the truth is much more complicated and wide-scaled than any single rash argument.
Schenectady doesn’t get to choose its residents, and its leaders can do little to improve labor force numbers. The city is simply at the mercy of something it cannot control.
That doesn't mean leaders of both the public and private sector shouldn't continue to try to boost middle-class job creation and incentivize working to lower the amount of “count for nothing” people.
Better efforts must be made all around.
Robert Caracciolo lives in Schenectady and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.