2009-01-29 / Local & State

Pa. Records Worst Year Of Job Losses Since 1990

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania's job losses reached an 18-year high last year and the statewide unemployment rate soared to its highest level since March 1994, state officials said Thursday.

In 2008, Pennsylvania lost 76,000 jobs - more than 1 percent of the state's work force at the beginning of the year. The proportion of people looking for work rose to 6.7 percent in December from 4.4 percent a year earlier.

The year's job losses accelerated in the last five months, and things don't appear to be improving.

Gov. Ed Rendell announced Thursday that a severe budget crunch will force state government to lay off workers later this year, and employers like trucking company YRC Worldwide Inc. and electronics giant Sony Corp. recently announced that layoffs are planned later this year.

At Lancaster-based High Steel Structures Inc., the steel fabricator is seeing fewer orders for girders in building construction and cash-strapped states committing to fewer bridge projects.

For now, the company's 650 workers in Lancaster and Williamsport are staying busy on bridge projects already in the pipeline and executives hope that a proposed economic stimulus package from the federal government will pump money into more bridge projects.

"We know that if the stimulus package is delayed significantly or is not very robust, we would expect to have a problem later in 2009,'' said High Steel's president Jeffrey Sterner.

The state now has fewer nonfarm jobs than it did in February 2006.

In December, Pennsylvania employers cut 27,100 jobs - almost equaling November's revised job loss of 27,200, which had been the biggest one-month drop in more than a decade.

With unemployment claims piling up, officials have said they are worried that the state's jobless benefits fund may not be able to keep up.

It might be cold comfort, but Pennsylvania thus far has fared better than the rest of the country, which shed nearly 2 percent of its jobs in 2008 and recorded a jobless rate of 7.2 percent in December.

"Right now, we're looking at it like a normal downturn in business that we don't see as being quite as bad as the rest of the country,'' said Lee Taddonio, president of Pittsburghbased SMC Business Councils, a trade association for small businesses.

Of SMC's members, the bleak economy is hitting hardest at retailers and manufacturers that rely heavily on the automobile industry, Taddonio said.

Manufacturing, construction, transportation, retail and service providing sectors lost jobs for the year, while health care, education, warehousing and governments at all levels were on track to increase employment.

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