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8.7 percent in area jobless

The region’s unemployment rate continued to climb in March to 8.7 percent, close to a level last seen 15 years ago.

The rate reached 9 percent for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre labor market in March 1994

At the pace the rate is rising it could again be there by the summer. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reported the area’s rate has increased by at least one-tenth of a percentage point each month since January 2008 when it was 5.3 percent. A year ago March the rate was 5.5 percent.

The local number rose by two-tenths of percentage point from February and placed the area in a tie with Williamsport for the highest unemployment rate in the state. State College had the lowest seasonally adjusted rate of 5.6 percent for the month among the state’s 14 labor markets.

The state’s rate bumped up higher by three-tenths of percentage point to 7.8 percent, and the national rate of 8.5 percent approached the local figure.

The local labor force decreased by 1,400 from February to 284,400. The total represents workers who live in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties but might be employed outside the region. Employment dropped by 1,900 to 259,600 and unemployment grew by 400 to 24,700.

Within the region, Lackawanna County had the lowest rate of 8.1 percent. Wyoming reached a level of 9 percent and Luzerne recorded a rate of 9.1 percent.

The seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs data released by the state showed the region with 254,900 jobs, a decrease of 1,500 from February. In the previous year comparison, the region lost 7,300 jobs.

The most recent March number came close to the March 2004 total of 254,500.

The department conducts a similar measure of jobs within the region that is not adjusted to account for seasonal hiring trends.

That showed total non-farm jobs unchanged from the February total of 252,900.

The goods-producing sector lost 400 jobs and dropped to 38,700 in March. The other major component, the service-providing sector, gained 400 jobs and rose to 214,200.

The educational services category was one of the few that added jobs for the month.

William Grant, chief executive officer of Hildebrandt Learning Center in Dallas, said his company has been growing in Pennsylvania and other states.

“We’ve had no layoffs,” Grant said. The company will open a center in the Kinship Square project in Wilkes-Barre this year and begin to fill positions for 35 jobs in July.

Hildebrandt will open a child learning center on the campus of West Virginia University in August. Another center will open at the Penn State Harrisburg campus. Between the two, the company will hire approximately 60 people.

As families are squeezed by the recession, a stay-at-home mom might be looking to supplement the household’s income by entering the job market. As a result, working parents search for a place that will take care of their children, Grant explained. “Our enrollments have been very steady,” he said.

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