WASHINGTON: Erie County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady in February at 6 percent, tied for the highest rate among Pennsylvania’s 18 metropolitan areas. But the number also marks a solid improvement since December when unemployment stood at 6.6 percent. On Tuesday, the same day that the latest employment numbers were announced by the state Department of Labor & Industry, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania expressed concern about the local employment situation. In a letter to Jeff Immelt, chairman of the Boston-based General Electric Co., the Pennsylvania Democrat said he was writing out of concern for the employees of GE Transportation in Erie, following recent reports that GE, its parent company, is working to cut $2 billion in expenses over a two-year period. “If these reports are true, and GE does plan to achieve such savings, it is imperative that any measures to cut costs be carried out in a way that will not negatively affect the 2,900 hardworking men and women who are employed by GE Transportation in Erie and their families,” Casey wrote. Casey, along with other public officials, is keenly aware of GE Transportation’s capacity to shape local unemployment statistics. In December 2015, Erie County’s unemployment rate was at its lowest level in years at 4.9 percent. That rate, however, would climb throughout much of 2016 as GE Transportation moved ahead with plans to reduce its workforce by 1,500 positions.
In October, the county’s unemployment rate climbed as high as 6.9 percent. Casey made note of those losses in his letter Tuesday. “This same plant and the surrounding community is still dealing with the devastating effects of the loss of 1,500 good-paying jobs in 2016 and further job losses would decimate the already struggling regional economy,” he wrote. While Erie County’s unemployment rate was unchanged in February, the unemployment rate in Crawford County climbed from 5.3 percent to 5.7 percent. Both counties compare unfavorably to the state and national unemployment rates. The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in February, compared with 5 percent in Pennsylvania. Among metropolitan areas, Gettysburg had the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 3.6 percent. Erie and Johnstown were tied with the highest unemployment rate among metropolitan areas. Meanwhile, the size of Erie’s civilian labor force, the number of people who are either working or want to work, continues to shrink, falling from 133,700 in February 2016 to 131,800 in February of this year.