Preliminary figures on jobs in the region, while mixed, suggest we can start hoping that our crisis-level unemployment has peaked and has started to come down.
Atlantic County and Cumberland County saw employment growth in the 1 percent to 1.9 percent range for July 2012 through July 2013, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that was then seasonally adjusted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Cape May County, unfortunately, was the only metropolitan area among the 24 tracked by the Philly Fed to see total employment fall in the past 12 months, by 1.7 percent.
The number crunchers at the Fed haven’t figured out the precise July unemployment rates for local counties yet, but the preliminary report shows there will be improvement — a most welcome development for an area with some of the worst joblessness in the nation.
Atlantic County’s unemployment rate dropped in July to between 11 percent and 11.9 percent — still far above the comparable U.S. rate of 7.4 percent — but significantly down from 13 percent in June and from 13.3 percent a year ago.
The July jobless rates for Cape May and Cumberland counties are between 12 percent and 12.9 percent, the Fed says. That, too, is a significant improvement from June’s rates of 13.2 percent for Cape and 13.3 percent for Cumberland.
A year ago, both counties were among the nation’s worst for jobs with unemployment rates above 14 percent.
Some local figures already are available from the Fed, and they suggest the leisure and hospitality sector in Atlantic County — the source of much of its employment weakness — might be turning the corner.
The Fed said 47,200 people were employed in the sector in July, up from 46,800 the month before. That was still a bit less than the 47,600 hospitality workers in the county in July 2012.
Of course, two casino hotels this past week announced significant layoffs, so more months will be needed before a positive trend can be assumed. End-of-summer layoffs, which accounted for some of the casino jobs eliminated, are typical at this time of year, and seasonal adjustment of the employment numbers is intended to smooth out such normal variations.
Leisure and hospitality jobs, a staple of the tourism industry, contributed to the employment shrinkage in Cape May County the past year.
The 10,600 such jobs in July was 200 fewer than the month before and 400 fewer than a year ago.
The Atlantic City-Philadelphia-Wilmington, Del., region still pays more than elsewhere in the nation for electricity and natural gas, but at least our rates haven’t risen as much.
The electricity component of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index found an average price for a kilowatt-hour of power in July in our region was $0.159, the same as a year ago but 16 percent higher than the U.S. average.
For the U.S., the price was $0.137, up from $0.133 a year ago.
Natural gas prices here, after falling the past few years, increased in July to $1.219 per therm from $1.169 in the same month a year ago.
That’s still 19 percent more than the national average for natural gas, but the rest of the country closed the gap a bit the past year.
The average U.S. price of natural gas jumped from $0.943 to $1.025. Before that jump, we were paying 24 percent more for natural gas than the rest of the nation.
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