Unemployment in Oswego County hits 23 year high

(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)
(Devon Nitz | The Oswegonian)

Oswego County saw a 23-year-high in unemployment ratings for the month of January, according to New York State Department of Labor statistics.

In January, the New York State Department of Labor reported the unemployment rate in Oswego County as 12.7 percent, tying it with Lewis County as the second highest unemployed county in New York state, behind Bronx County.

Oswego, along with Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties, which make up New York’s eastern shore of Lake Ontario and the Tug Hill region, all had unemployment rates above 12 percent in January, covering an area from Oswego to Massena.

With the national rate at a four-year low at 7.7 percent in February, New York state still sees an average rate nearly a whole percentage point higher.

“Oswego County and Central New York are lagging in the recoveries of the state and nation,” said Karen Knapik-Scalzo, an associate economist at the New York State Department of Labor. “This is because our local job creation rates are not as strong and we have not seen a broad-based economic recovery in all of our industry sectors.  Some of our industry sectors are growing but others are declining.”

According to state data, the number of county residents holding a job fell by 800 during January, to 50,400, and the number of people looking for work increased by 900 during the month, to 7,300.

These numbers are taking tolls on local businesses and business owners.

“I used to have four guys employed and I’m down to one,” said Arthur Hough, owner of Hough Construction, a general contracting company in Oswego. “The business is very tough for contracting in this area. If I hadn’t been in business for 28 years and had a good reputation, I’d probably have moved out of this state by now.”

It is not altogether abnormal to have the highest unemployment numbers during the winter months. For seasonal locations, January, February and March usually see the lowest employment rates compared to the rest of the year.

Knapik-Scalzo said that construction jobs tend to decline in the winter. School breaks also occur during this time and retail trade employment tends to drop off after the holidays.

“Normally, winter is a little tougher,” Hough said. “We do kitchens and baths now so that makes it a little better. If people are willing to let you inside their house to do kitchens and baths, it isn’t too bad.”

Oswego is known as a summer tourist location and local businesses are used to seeing declines in employment and production in wintertime.

“Early winter is our hottest point, anywhere from November to December. And then we kind of slow down until now with the Easter holidays, and things start picking up again,” said Deborah Pritchard, owner of a branch of Send Out Cards, an online greeting card and gift company.

The job losses in January 2013, compared to January 2012, are those in leisure and hospitality and financial activities.

“The leisure and hospitality sector has not fully recovered locally, and this can be due to the fact that people have less disposable income to spend on these activities during a time of still high unemployment,” Knapik-Scalzo said.

Pritchard said that she understood that the state of the economy has caused consumers to cut back on a lot of what they spend money on.

“People are looking for something that’s really needed with the economy like it is, so it’s been a little slow,” Pritchard said.

The jobs that have seen growth in the area since this time last year include educational and medical professions, according to the state data.

“They have been on a long-term growth pattern and are projected to continue to grow,” Knapik-Scalzo said. “This is due to the needs of an aging population base, increased emphasis on preventative healthcare, increased access to healthcare and increasing demand for training and retraining as more students go on to some type of training program beyond high school.”

Interestingly, Oswego County is seeing fewer people working now than it did three to four years ago when the national recession was at its worst. According to Knapik-Scalzo, Oswego and the Central New York area are recovering much slower than the rest of the state and the country, but conditions should improve.

“The manufacturing sector will still take a while to recover from the layoffs and closings that have occurred over the years in the county,” Knapik-Scalzo said. “The county will face a competitive job market for jobseekers until we start to see stronger local job creation rates across more industry sectors and employers feel more confident in expanding their workforces and locating their businesses in the area.”