The latest workforce statistics show Bedford County’s unemployment rate hit a record low for January as fewer than 1,000 county residents were listed as unemployed.
The state’s Department of Labor and Industry’s Center for Workforce Information and Analysis released its figures this week that show a seasonally adjusted rate of 3.7 percent for the county’s labor market area that has a workforce of about 23,500.
The state data show that 22,700 residents were employed in January, giving the county’s labor market area the 24th lowest jobless rate among the state’s 67 counties.
The department’s industry and business analyst, Lauren Riegel, said even though the state is revising historical data for 2018 when the jobless rate was hovering around 4 percent, she believes January will hold the record. “This level of 3.7 percent is a record going back to 1976.”
Even after the state adjusts its figures for 2018, which is expected to be completed and reported at the end of April, “I doubt any month last year will be this low, especially for Bedford, where we’ve seen, even during the times where it’s been good economic growth, we’ve had generally higher unemployment rates than this.”
The rate compares with 4.3 percent for December, though that rate may be adjusted after the state completes its revisions that take into account more employment data for 2018.
The rate was significantly lower than January 2018, when the rate was 4.9 percent and the labor force was the same level, but about 300 additional residents were considered out of work.
Bedford County Development Association president Bette Slayton said from her perspective, she’s seeing job growth from existing employers more than from new business and industry.
“Existing companies are gradually increasing employment,” Slayton said Thursday.
“Historically low unemployment is every community’s dream,” she said. “It’s excellent news having lived through years of double-digit unemployment.”
The number of jobs in the county dropped from 16,000 in December 2018 to 15,800, with positions in mining, logging and construction dropping by about 100 along with leisure and hospitality which fell by about 100 more. (Figures are rounded to the nearest 100.)
Riegel said those figures square with the typical jobs movement for this time of the year.
“Half of that was mining, logging and construction — that’s totally normal to have less business in the winter. So, that’s something we typically see and that’s not anything we need to be concerned about.”
Hospitality and leisure jobs typically decline with the winter season, also, she said.
But mostly, she said, the economy and jobs growth are “chugging along.”
Riegel said the previous lowest unemployment for the county’s labor market area was 4.7 percent in March 2000.
Across the state, health care and education are fueling job growth and leading other market areas to record or near-record jobless rates, she said.
Other rates around the region are:
—Altoona, 3.6 percent in a workforce of 60,100 where about 2,100 were considered without employment;
—4.2 percent in Somerset, where there were about 1,400 were out of work in a workforce of 33,600;
—4.5 percent in the Johnstown metro area, where about 58,500 are in the workforce, meaning about 2,600 were jobless;
—5 percent in Huntingdon’s labor market, where there are about 19,900 workers, about 1,000 of whom were looking for work;
Chambersburg’s rate dropped to 3.3 percent, the lowest of those labor markets in neighboring regions. The workforce there is about 78,400.
The state’s rate for January was 4.1 percent in a workforce of about 6.46 million — about 266,000 were considered jobless — and 4 percent in the U.S. with a workforce of about 156.7 million. About 6.54 million were considered jobless.
Slayton said one of the byproducts of an improving jobs picture is simple — it gives those looking for work or looking for better jobs more hope.
“It gives people an optimistic outlook,” she said.