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Job Market in Pittsburgh Slowly Improves While State Falters

While the rate of job growth in Pennsylvania sits dead last among states in the U.S., the numbers in Pittsburgh are a bit more optimistic, according to recent studies by the Keystone Research Center and PittsburghTODAY.

The Greater Pittsburgh area added 7,500 jobs from September 2013 to September 2014, a 0.6 percent increase. Pennsylvania, ranked 50th for job growth since January 2011, lost 9,600 jobs in September alone.

The trends in Pittsburgh have been ahead of the state for a couple of years now, according to  Executive Director Stephen Herzenberg of the left-leaning Keystone Research Center.

“Some of it could be the innovation economy in Pittsburgh,” Herzenberg said. “Some people talk about ‘Eds and Meds,’ but also the startups in Pittsburgh spinning out of Carnegie Mellon University. There are more young people staying in Pittsburgh after they get out of college.”

Though the rate of job growth in Pittsburgh is encouraging in comparison to the state, it is low compared to the 14 other metropolitan regions that are similar to Pittsburgh in size. Pittsburgh’s 0.6 percent increase in jobs is the fourth-smallest among the benchmark regions and 1.4 percent below the average.

Douglas Heuck, director of PittsburghTODAY, said the numbers in Pittsburgh show that the city’s job market is slowly and steadily growing. Since the 2007-09 recession, Pittsburgh has experienced a “flat curve” in job growth, Heuck said.

“If we go back a little bit farther [than 2011], the Pittsburgh region really outpaced most regions in the U.S., from the teeth of the recession for the first several years as most places saw a great loss of jobs,” Heuck said. “We continued to see a steady increase.”

Pittsburgh hasn’t noticed a drastic spike in the job market because of slow population growth, according to Heuck. While cities like Denver have been attracting young people long enough to notice effects, Pittsburgh has just begun attracting a younger demographic, he said.

“Pittsburgh is a place now where people want to come and visit,” Heuck said. “It will be [important] to attract not people just to visit, but to move here. And that has been happening since the Great Recession.”

The number of unemployed people in Pennsylvania has fallen by 109,000 in the past year, which may seem beneficial to the job market. However, only 16,000 of those people found a job. Six out of seven dropped out of the labor force.

“Unfortunately unemployment has been coming down not primarily because people are getting jobs, but mostly because people are discouraged and giving up looking for work,” Herzenberg said. “Therefore they are no longer counted as unemployed or as part of the labor force.”

Herzenberg is urging state leaders to change their policies.

“If we invest in education, if we invest in infrastructure, if we don’t leave federal money on the table, those kinds of changes in direction will lift Pennsylvania up the job rankings and drive unemployment down for the right reason,” Herzenberg said.

Heuck said to improve the numbers in Pittsburgh, the focus must be on educating the city’s youth so “they can be productive members of the workforce.” 

WESA will be surveying Pennsylvania candidates for federal and state office for the 2022 general election — tell us which issues are most important to you.