Dec. 17, 2002 – The most recent employment statistics from the Labor Department, for the month of October, show the territory's jobless rate is higher than in the month following Hurricane Marilyn — 9.7 percent now versus 9.4 percent then.
And it's on the rise.
The unemployment rate surpassed the October 1995 rate for the first time this September, hitting 9.6 percent, then inched higher in October, continuing a steady increase over eight months.
For September and October, St. Croix recorded the highest percentage of people unemployed at any time in the eight years for which statistics were provided — 12 percent, which is double the national average. The 2002 figures reflect a month-to-month rise in the island's jobless rate in since February, when it stood at 9 percent.
The most recent St. Thomas-St. John district figures also are above the national average — 7.6 percent in September and 7.7 percent in October.
In actual numbers, the territory had 4,690 people looking for work in October — 2,600 of them on St. Croix, and 2,090 on St. Thomas and St. John.
The unemployment figures reflect the number of persons who have lost jobs and are actively looking for work through the Labor Department. Others who are unemployed but not receiving jobless benefits or seeking work are not included in the statistics.
Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin said on Tuesday that many factors contributed to the high St. Croix unemployment rate. Among them he cited economic uncertainty on the U.S. mainland after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the completion of major projects at the Hovensa refinery including construction of the coker plant that was two and a half years in the making and repairs to the catalytic cracking unit.
With completion of the Hovensa projects, "Many of those people have been laid off," Benjamin said. "We have also taken a big hit in the manufacturing and construction industries on St. Croix."
Hovensa announced the layoff by its contractors of nearly a thousand workers in May and the layoff of some 600 construction workers about a hundred permanent maintenance employees in July. Swiss-owned Unitime Industries announced in October that it would be closing its St. Croix watch-assembly plant at the end of the year, putting 50 persons out of work.
Benjamin said he hopes the construction of two new casino resorts — Seven Hills on Robin Bay and the Golden Gaming project at Great Pond Bay — will provide new job opportunities and improve the island's economy. "We're very hopeful that in the near future we'll see those figures dropping," he said of the unemployment statistics.
The Labor Department provides unemployment benefits for up to six months to qualifying individuals who have been laid off. After that, Benjamin said, the individuals should be "gainfully employed."

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