2009-03-26 / Features

Pa. Lost 41,000 Jobs In February, Most Since 1996

By Marc Levy ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - February brought Pennsylvania its steepest job losses since the recession began, led by a big drop in manufacturers' payrolls, according to state figures released Thursday.

All told, the state's employers shed 41,000 jobs in February, or about 1 in every 140 jobs in Pennsylvania. It was the biggest one-month job loss in 13 years. The February unemployment rate hit the highest mark in 16 years.

The size of the job losses was startling and raised the specter that Pennsylvania will not be able to avoid the recession's heavier job losses being felt elsewhere in the nation, said labor economist Mark Price of the Harrisburgbased Keystone Research Center, which is affiliated with organized labor.

"It's clearly beginning to hit Pennsylvania in a way that it hasn't so far,'' Price said. "Hopefully this is a blip, but we're going to definitely continue to lose jobs, hopefully not at this pace.''

The state Labor and Industry Department released the figures on the same day that Gov. Ed Rendell publicly criticized Philadelphia-based refiner Sunoco Inc. for its plan to slash 750 jobs.

The company is eliminating the jobs to pad profits and dividends, not to avoid red ink, and will only accelerate the vicious cycle of weakening consumer spending and layoffs, Rendell said at a news conference in Philadelphia.

"There are some things that are more important than how much profit we make,'' Rendell said. "Sunoco should sacrifice by making a tiny bit less profit.''

Sunoco was not swayed.

The company said it is facing a different and more difficult economy, despite several years of strong financial results, and that it must take steps to remain competitive.

"Recession means lower demand for gasoline and diesel fuel and other refined products,'' said Sunoco spokesman Thomas Golembeski, who complained that Rendell has not called out any other companies for cutting jobs.

Among the job-loss notifications received by state labor officials in February and March included layoffs at a Manitowoc Co. hydraulic equipment plant in Franklin County, Essroc Cement Corp. in Lawrence County, two K-Mart stores in Montgomery County and Modern Industries Inc. in Erie.

Officials also received notifications about the closings of a Triumph Apparel Corp. plant in York, a TNS Custom Research Inc. office in Indiana borough and an Advanta Corp. office in suburban Philadelphia.

February's unemployment rate stood at 7.5 percent, a halfpercentage point increase over January as another 31,000 people joined the ranks of the unemployed who are actively seeking work. Pennsylvania's rate remained below the national rate of 8.1 percent in February.

The manufacturing sector suffered Pennsylvania's biggest overall percentage drop in February.

Manufacturers cut 15,000 jobs, or 2 percent of the sector, during the month. The financial services and professional and business services sectors each shed more than 1 percent.

Pennsylvania now has fewer jobs than it did in July 2005.

When the recession began in December 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent. Since then, employers have reduced payrolls by more than 100,000 jobs, or nearly 2 percent.

Filings for unemployment benefits rose steeply, too, up 51 percent last month over February 2008.

In the first week of March, filings of initial claims were up 85 percent over a similar period last year, according to government statistics.

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