NORRISTOWN — As the COVID-19 pandemic took a financial toll on many Montgomery County families, officials spotlighted available resources for people looking for help getting back to work.
“I don't have to tell you that the last program year has been tumultuous,” said Jennifer Butler, Montgomery County’s director of workforce development.
Butler addressed the trio of Montgomery County Commissioners during a meeting earlier this month to give a status report on the area’s unemployment rate. She noted that July 1 also marked the start of a "new program year."
At the beginning of the public health crisis, here in Montgomery County, unemployment skyrocketed to 14.1 percent in April 2020, according to statistics Butler obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. It has since dropped to 4.7 percent, with 20,600 people unemployed in Montgomery County, as of May.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that figure is similar to pre pandemic rates: 3.5 percent in March 2018, 3.4 percent in March 2019 and 4.6 percent in March 2020.
Butler added that Chester, Lancaster and Montgomery counties are considered to have the lowest unemployment rates in the commonwealth.
However, levels are higher in certain suburban boroughs, according to Butler, who noted that unemployment rates stand at 7.8 percent in Pottstown and 6.5 percent in the county seat.
“So there are areas that we absolutely need to focus our efforts on at this time,” Butler said during the July 1 board meeting.
“If our municipalities are higher than county average what can we do in those municipalities to try and make sure there’s equity in employment across the county?” asked Montgomery County Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Ken Lawrence Jr.
Butler stressed that “outreach” is key.
“Make sure that every individual in those municipalities ... know that they have access to support services, funds for training that we can help move them to a better place than maybe even they were pre pandemic because we do absolutely also know that the pandemic really highlighted some of those inequities and the impact that they can have on families in Montgomery County,” she said.
Butler told the county commissioners both PA CareerLink Montgomery County and MontcoWorks have a host of resources including career counseling, training and support services.
“[We’re] just really trying to make sure we’re getting the word out to everyone who is looking for work in Montgomery County,” she said.
There have been 1,230 people who have received services, 166 people have been trained and 280 others were “connected to employment” since last April, according to Butler.
“The number that keeps me up at night is the 280 that we've connected to employment, and that primarily is because we need to connect to the individuals that are looking for work,” she said.