While the unemployment rate in New York state dropped to a two-year low of 8 percent in March, the number of unemployed remains stubbornly high in Fulton and Montgomery counties.
Fulton County's unemployment rate came in at 10.7 percent last month, with Montgomery County posting a 10.6 percent rate. Hamilton County's unemployment rate for March was 10.7 percent, down from 12 percent a year ago.
While those numbers are down from where they were a year ago, both are well above the state average.
Applicants are shown at a job fair at Fulton-Montgomery County Community College on Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo
Area counties have among the highest unemployment rates in the state. Only five counties have higher unemployment rates than Fulton and Hamilton counties, and Montgomery County is only a tenth of a percentage point below them.
"There are a lot of seasonal jobs in Fulton and Montgomery counties," said Gail Breen, executive director of Fulton-Montgomery-Schoharie Workforce Solutions. "We think of those as being farming jobs, but also construction jobs. Construction is really depressed across the state."
According to statistics provided by the state Labor Department, construction saw the second-biggest decline, a loss of 13,500 jobs in March, compared to the same time a year ago.
"It's obviously a lack of demand for employees," said Wally Hart, president/chief executive officer of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry. "People are being very cautious and not expanding their payrolls."
Statistics show unemployment in the area tends to ease in the summer months as tourism and construction seasons kick in. Last year, Fulton and Montgomery counties saw their highest unemployment in February and March before dropping in the spring and summer.
Breen said the time between January and March are the worst times of year for unemployment in the area due to the lack of seasonal jobs in the winter.
"Years ago, we talked about if we had a serial seasonal worker," she said. "If someone could segueway from a [summer seasonal job] to working in a ski resort during the winter. We need seasonal workers because we have seasonal jobs."
While last year's unemployment rate decreased last summer, it never dropped far below 9 percent.
"We will see a nice increase in employment because of construction jobs and tourism," Hart said. "We know know that both are strong fields here in our region. We will see those numbers pick up a little bit. That's cyclical and has always been that way."
According to a news release from the Labor Department, New York's economy gained 5,000 jobs in March. Since the state's economic recovery began in November 2009, the state has added 119,500 jobs in the private sector.
March's 8 percent unemployment rate is down from 9.2 in February, with the number of unemployed dropping to 767,000 from 786,600. both are the state's lowest since March 2009.
Over the past year, according to the Labor Department, educational and health services added the most jobs in the private sector (36,800). Most of that came in health care and social assistance and ambulatory health care services. Educational services made up 17,200 of those jobs.
Professional and business services also saw an increase of 29,400 jobs statewide, and the largest gains were made in the leisure and hospitality industries, where most were centered in accommodation and food services.
Government continues to bleed jobs. According to the Labor Department, state losses were greatest at local governments (19,500), with 13,900 of those losses taking place at school districts.
In an attempt to help put at least a small dent in the unemployment rate, the chamber, Workforce Solutions, the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and Fulton-Montgomery Community College held a job fair Wednesday in the college union. The fair was packed during the event's first hour.
"We encourage people to go up and put in their resumes and talk to employers," Breen said. "Even if it's not an employer they want to work for today, it's good practice. We encourage people to go and talk to the employers."
Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.