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The labor force in southwestern Pennsylvania drops to 30-year low

hiring employment job jobless unemployment labor bonus.jpeg
Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
As the labor force continues to shrink in the Pittsburgh area, businesses have struggled with hiring.

New U.S. jobs numbers show that as unemployment reached a new pandemic-era low in December, employers continued to struggle with hiring. And the picture is similarly mixed in the Pittsburgh area, according to the latest regional data.

Southwestern Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate stood at 4.8% in November, according to a new analysis from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The region’s jobless rate hasn’t dipped that low since February 2020. But this time there’s a notable difference: The number of people working or looking for work is the lowest it’s been since 1990, according to the Allegheny Conference.

The report notes that, in the past 30 years, nine of the 10 largest one-month drops in the region’s labor force have occurred during the pandemic.

The decline is good news for job seekers, said Jim Futrell, the Allegheny Conference’s vice president of market research.

“If you're looking for a job, it's great to be doing that because businesses are in need of employees and you see 'help wanted' signs everywhere,” he said.

But the shortage of workers slows broader economic recovery by stopping businesses from creating jobs, he added. Indeed, employment in the Pittsburgh area remains anemic, increasing by just 2.5% between November 2020 and November 2021.

Futrell attributed the stagnation in part to early retirements. Child care responsibilities, concerns about the coronavirus, and burnout are also commonly cited reasons.

But while the number of workers continues to fall locally, labor force participation has begun to trend upward nationally. The rest of the country also has experienced a bigger rebound in employment than southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Our slower population growth is kind of hampering that organic creation of new jobs,” Futrell said.

The region gained just 27,500 jobs in the past year. For six months, employment levels in the Pittsburgh area have hovered around 94% of what they were two years ago, the Allegheny Conference reported.

Corrected: January 11, 2022 at 4:09 PM EST
This story has been updated to clarify that the labor force, not the number of job seekers, reached a 30-year low.
An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.
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