The unemployment rate in New York state dropped slightly in September, but numbers increased in some North Country counties.
The state Labor Department reported last week that New York's unemployment rate dropped from 9.1. percent in August to 8.9 percent in September. The data is compiled through a telephone survey of 3,100 households. New York added 2,900 jobs in September, according to the Labor Department, and first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped 3.4 percent in September.
Hamilton County posted one of the state's lowest unemployment rates at 6.3 percent, although the data isn't seasonally adjusted to reflect things like holiday and summer hires. Hamilton County's unemployment rate increased from 5.6 percent in September 2011.
In Essex County, the unemployment rate increased from 8.6 percent in August to 8.9 percent in September. In September 2011, it was 8.1 percent. Franklin County saw its rate drop from 9.3 percent in August to 8.9 percent in September, although it was 8.4 percent in September 2011.
Jobs and the economy are at the forefront of most state and national elections, and unemployment figures have been highly politicized.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, running for re-election in New York's new 21st Congressional District, said the latest jobs figures are a sign that New York is "taking the right steps to put people back to work." The Democrat from Plattsburgh said more needs to be done to put people back to work in rural areas. Retraining workers to fill about 3,000 unfilled jobs across the North Country is one of Owens' top priorities.
"Last Friday, I was over in Watertown and I spoke to the Workforce Investment Board people, and what they said to us was, at least in Jefferson County, that they could employ many of the unemployed if they had adequate training dollars to match the skill sets with the job needs," Owens told the Enterprise. "What that translates to me is that we need to be able to train people - give them the skill sets they need in order to be employable. There's a disconnect between what people's skill sets are and the jobs that are out there."
Owens' chief rival, Watertown businessman Matt Doheny, said the latest jobs figures are encouraging, but people in Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton counties are "still struggling from a lack of opportunity." According to the Doheny campaign's math, the combined unemployment rate in those counties was 9 percent last month, up about 0.5 percent from the same time last year.
"My opponent has had almost three years to make a positive impact in his home area," Doheny said in an emailed statement. "But the unemployment rate hasn't changed in the four-county area. It was 8.9 percent when he first went to Washington. He is simply maintaining an unacceptable status quo.
"This area has a lot of comparative advantages: inexpensive, available land, a close proximity to the border and abundant water access, to name a few. I have the energy, the passion and the knowledge to properly market this area. And I'll be a strong advocate for laws that get government out of the way of growth. Combine these two, and I know we can make a positive difference here."
Citing his own math, Owens said there was a "downward tick" in the unemployment rate in both the current 23rd Congressional District and the new 21st.
"It wasn't a lot, but it's moving the needle in the right direction," he said.
Reacting to the latest report, Don Hassig, who will be on the Green Party line in the Nov. 6 election, renewed his call for the U.S. to withdraw from the World Trade Organization and all of its free trade agreements. He also said the U.S. should provide all Americans with free health care and free education.
Hassig said the U.S. should also close its borders to "all immigration, excepting those people with valuable technical skills, professional skills or expert knowledge in subject areas of significance to the betterment of American life and those who have close relatives who are U.S. citizens." He said a fair tax system that closes loopholes for corporations would also improve the employment scenario.
"If our nation does all of these things, we will soon have full employment," Hassig said.