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Laid Off Workers in Pennsylvania City Try to Retool


As unemployment grows across the country, many workers are learning new skills and moving to different industries to find work. The state of Pennsylvania lost 41,000 jobs in February. Many were in the manufacturing sector which has been in decline over the last decade.

Vickie Smeltzer is a garment worker in York, Pennsylvania, who is about to be laid off and considering work in another industry. She is one of 220 garment workers losing their jobs at this Triumph Apparel factory.

"I can't say I was totally caught off guard. Many of the other people were, 'cause they had seen the company go down before and come back," she says.

Triumph Apparel makes workout and dance clothing under the brand name Danskin.

Vickie says the banking crisis has made it impossible for Triumph Apparel to obtain loans to continue its operations.

This is the fifth time Vickie has lost a job in the garment industry. In the past, it was easy for her to find new work. But times have changed.

"You just went down the street or a half a mile away and there was another sewing factory you could get into and start right up again. There was a lot of them around. And of course now, there are almost none," says Vickie.

York is a small industrial city north of Washington D.C. Unemployment in the York area has increased to 7.3 percent. That is still below the national rate which is above 8 percent.

Manufacturing accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of York's economy and has been trending downward over the past decade. Well known international brands like Harley Davidson motorcycles and Tyco electronics recently cut hundreds of jobs in the area.

Bob Jensensius, with the York Chamber of Commerce, is still optimistic. He says York has diversified over the years, and with some luck, there could be a turnaround late in
2009.

"What happens in China, what happens in India, what happens in Europe, affects what happens in York Pennsylvania," he says.

Employment counselor Alan Vandersloot works with the York County Chapter of the United Way, a charity. He says finding work in today's economy is not easy. But certain sectors, like healthcare and the service industries, are hiring. He says workers need to be willing to learn new skills.

"So, when we have major layoffs such as Harley Davidson that doesn't bode well for the community. But there are some major employers in York county that are hiring in specific jobs," says Vandersloot.

"I don't know anything about this one," Vickie says.

Vickie has been thinking about a career change. But, at 58, she is concerned her age could discourage employers.

"Is it realistic if it is going to take a year or two to acclimate you to a new job … to hire you, when by that year or two is over, you might be ready to say I am going to retire?" she asks.

It is a common theme across the country as workers try to adapt and find industries were the jobs are. Vickie is somewhat optimistic about her prospects.

"I guess it depends on your own personality as to how you deal with that. I take it as another bump in the road … get up and go again!" she says.

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