Last updated: August 26. 2014 7:13PM - 532 Views
By Ron Bartizek Times Leader Correspondent

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With 6,900 fewer persons officially unemployed than a year earlier, the jobless rate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area edged down by one-tenth of a percentage point in July to 6.8 percent, the lowest since October 2008, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Labor and Industry. The rate was 9 percent in July 2013.

Still, the region that includes Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming counties maintained a more than four-year record of having the highest rate of unemployment among Pennsylvania’s 14 large labor markets. Johnstown was the only other market above 6 percent; State College had the lowest rate at 4.1 percent. The statewide unemployment rate in July was 5.7 percent, and the national rate was 6.2 percent.

Along with the drop in unemployed persons, 1,300 fewer residents of the three counties were working, meaning the labor force – the number of persons working or looking for work – continued a steady decline, standing at 274,500 in July, compared to 282,700 one year earlier, a 3 percent decrease.

The number of non-farm jobs within the region that includes Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming counties fell by 200 from June and 1,500 compared to July 2013. That was the greatest loss in Pennsylvania.

Compared to a year ago, mining, logging and construction jobs were a standout, rising by 1,400, or 13 percent.

“There is more work around this year,” said Joseph Mack Jr., owner of Champion Builders in Kingston. “I think I hired five or six people this year so far,” bringing the company’s employee count to 35.

But like other employers, Mack said its hard to find good people. He sees it mostly as a work habits challenge. “Construction’s not easy work,” he said, and younger hires often don’t stick with it.

Trade, transportation and warehousing has showed consistent growth, and rose 2,000 from July 2013.

Private service-providing jobs fell over the year, led by a 2,700 decline in professional and business services, a sector that has been shrinking for several months. Retail trade employment also fell measurably, by 1,800 jobs.

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