Friday, April 17, 2009

Indiana in March joined seven other U.S. states with a jobless rate of at least 10 percent, and unemployment surged in Oregon, Washington and West Virginia as the worst employment slump in the postwar era rippled through the economy.

Indiana’s jobless rate jumped to 10 percent last month from 9.4 percent in February, the Labor Department reported today in Washington. Michigan, with 12.6 percent, remained the state with the highest unemployment rate, followed by Oregon at 12.1 percent. The rate in California rose to 11.2 percent from 10.6 percent.

“There is a bad news story in just about every part of the country right now,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Economists at Wachovia and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch are among those predicting the rate nationally, currently at a 25-year high of 8.5 percent, will also reach 10 percent. The need to cut costs and boost profits means payrolls will keep dropping even as the economy begins to recover from the recession.

Forty-six states registered increases in the unemployment rate in March from the prior month, three states had no change, while North Dakota and the District of Columbia posted a drop, the Labor Department said.

Oregon Jumps

Unemployment in Oregon saw the biggest jump for the month, climbing 1.4 percentage points from February’s 10.7 percent. Joblessness rose by 0.9 percentage point in Washington, to 9.2 percent, and in West Virginia, where it reached 6.9 percent, Labor said.

The Northwest “is getting the double whammy from the slumps in trade and aerospace,” said Michael Englund, chief economist at Action Economics LLC in Boulder, Colorado. “We may be seeing the impact from the collapse in trade along the whole west coast.”

Payroll employment in March decreased in 48 states and the District of Columbia. California led with a loss of 62,100 jobs, followed by Florida with 51,900 workers dismissed. Texas, North Carolina, Illinois and Ohio rounded out the six states with the biggest loss of jobs.

“Economic weakness is greatest in parts of the country with the most direct links to the housing boom and bust,” Wachovia’s Vitner said. “Also, those with the greatest concentration in manufacturing” are hurting, he said.

RV Collapse

A “collapse” in production of recreational vehicles in the area of Elkhart, Indiana, combined with links to the auto industry have contributed to the surge in unemployment in the state, said Marc Lotter, communications director for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Bob Warnock, 52, president of Teamsters Local 364 in South Bend, which covers North Central Indiana, including Elkhart, said the collapse of the RV industry has affected many of his members, from vending machine operators that once stocked now idled plants to truck drivers.

“I’ve been with this local for 26 years and I have never, ever seen it this bad,” he said in an interview. “The trickle down just spreads and spreads. It’s affecting everything.”

A factory slump also hurt Oregon, said David Cooke, an economist at the state’s employment department. In addition, Oregon residents that lost their jobs in neighboring California have returned to their home state seeking work, causing the labor force to bulge and having a “substantial effect” on the jump in joblessness, he said.

Exceeding 10%

Other states with unemployment exceeding 10 percent in March were South Carolina at 11.4 percent, North Carolina at 10.8 percent, Rhode Island at 10.5 percent and Nevada at 10.4 percent, figures showed today.

The economy has lost about 5.1 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007. Payrolls fell by 663,000 in March and the jobless rate jumped to the highest level since 1983. This month, Labor Department figures showed the total number of people collecting unemployment benefits climbed to a record 6.02 million in the week ended April 4.

Finding work again is getting harder because expertise isn’t necessarily transferable from industry to industry, said Craig Hewitt of Atlanta, who lost a management job in October with HSBC Holdings Plc’s auto-finance unit after six years.

Specific Skills

“Employers who are out there have become very specific in what they are looking for,” said Hewitt, 43, who hasn’t landed a single interview after six months of searching for a job and applying for about 40 positions. “It is challenging for all those who have been in financial services as a career as that business has been decimated.”

Fewer job postings are eroding advertising revenue at newspapers, causing firings and prompting some journalists to consider other lines of work. Robert Taylor, a feature writer for the Contra Costa Times in Walnut Creek, California, lost his job in July after eight years.

Taylor, who also worked at the Oakland Tribune for 25 years before that, said he is a month away from finishing classes for a marketing certificate program at San Francisco State University. He has rewritten his resume numerous times, applied for at least 15 jobs, and is still searching daily for public relations or marketing positions.

“I’ve never been unemployed for so long in my life,” said Taylor. “When I was laid off I thought I’d certainly have another job by year-end. Now I doubt I’ll ever work for a newspaper again.”

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headquarters in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, where Sony Ericsson cut 450 of 750 workers last fall.

The mobile phone manufacturer officials did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment on how the new round of cuts would affect RTP.

Sony Ericsson saw its first quarter sales fall 35 percent, to 14.5 million units, from the same period a year ago. Sales totaled $2.25 billion, down 36 percent from the first quarter of 2008.

As a result of the losses, the company announced it would look to cut its operating expenses by $520 million and reduce its total work force by 2,000 people. Those cuts should be completed by mid-2010.

The latest round of cuts come nine months after Sony-Ericsson announced plans to shave $300 million in a round of cuts that dropped the ax on 2,000 jobs. Those cuts have already been completed.

“We are aligning our business to the new market reality with the aim of bringing the company back to profitability as quickly as possible,” company president Dick Komiyama said in a statement.

The company has continued to struggle in the cell-phone market. Sony-Ericsson estimated its market share fell about 2 percentage points to 6 percent overall.

The company also expects global cell-phone sales to fall about 10 percent from 2008, when almost 1.2 billion units were sold.

The handset maker is a joint venture between Japan’s Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Sweden’s Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC).

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