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Labor Market Barometer

We’re reading more positive national economic indicators, which should mean good news for people who have been unemployed and are looking for work.

BarometerWhile the U.S. jobless rate remained at 6.7 percent in March, its labor force is now 1.1 million larger than this time a year ago. That number could have been higher, but Pennsylvania dropped 60,000 people from its labor force during the same time period.

National employment is now at its highest point since April 2008 when 137.9 million Americans collected paychecks. Experts say 192,000 people found new employment this past March, and that was the 42nd straight month that that number increased in the U.S.

Better news late this week was that 300,000 people across the country applied for unemployment benefits. Unfortunate for them but it is an important indicator because it has been almost seven years since that “low” of a number of unemployed workers filed for UC benefits.

Pennsylvania has continually failed to match the national job growth pattern. If it had, we would have created three times more than the 101,000 jobs that have been added to state payrolls since January 2011.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Democratic analysts, the commonwealth continues to be mired in the bottom tier of states for percentage of year-over-year employment gains, ranking 43rd out of 50 states (as compared to 10th in 2010). The news is worse for PA when comparing performance to January 2011 as it ranks 49th out of 50 for new percentage of employment growth. We are dead last among all of our neighboring states.

Bad news for my backyard: the Philly-Camden-Wilmington metropolitan area dropped from 7th to 8th, nationally, due to continued poor performance in the job growth arena. Miami now owns the 7th position.

Minimum Wage, Maryland-Style

checkIf the Corbett administration is intent on improving the state’s business climate, what will it do when all of our low-wage earners move to neighboring states?

Maryland joined New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Delaware as our neighbors who show they care about the people who must work minimum wage jobs when it approved a bill to increase its base hourly wage to $10.10 by 2018.

The governor’s and Republican leadership’s continued inaction on this front becomes more pathetic by each state’s vote. They are in danger of telling tens of thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians they aren’t worth the same consideration. “State of Independence?” They only need to look at themselves to understand why PA is not.

My new bill, Senate Bill 1300, to incrementally increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2016 remains on the table, as does my SB 1099, which would increase PA’s tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

What is more frustrating is there are other proposals before the General Assembly that Republican leaders and Gov. Corbett could consider. But they have proven by their silence that this is more about them and less about the people they represent.

In addition to the higher base hourly wage, SB 1300 would increase the fines and penalties for companies that violate the new law, provide for increased enforcement of the state’s minimum wage act, and it would allow municipalities that have a higher cost-of-living to consider a higher minimum wage.

One Positive Step for Long-Term Unemployed

I was glad to see that the U.S. Senate approved a bill to restore extended benefits to the country’s long-time unemployed.

The vote would extend federal jobless benefits through May 31.

UnemployedThis bill still faces an uncertain future in the U.S. House because Speaker John Boehner continues to hold that he would only move the bill if the White House explains how the federal government would pay for the extension.

Boehner is playing politics, of course, but he needs to get real. The Senate’s vote is a huge step forward for about 2 million workers who have been devastated by the recession and need this assistance to help them get back on their feet. We can afford to help them for just a couple more months.

Made in PA

With the spring season now upon us and temperatures on the rise, it's time to think about projects inside and outside the house. To make all of your spring cleaning plans a reality this year, we've got The List of union-made products to help you get the job done.

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Spring Spruce Up