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As Economy Changes, Lawmakers Look To Make Sure PA Jobs Keep Up

Matt Rourke
Workers manufacture thermal protection systems for NASA at Bally Ribbon Mills in Bally, Pa. on Thursday March 23, 2017. Pennsylvania lawmakers want to make sure workers in labor positions like this can prepare for the "new economy" focused on technology.

 Retail and manufacturing jobs are on the decline--both in Pennsylvania, and around the country.

So a state lawmaker is looking for ways to pinpoint exactly where those jobs are going--and how to stop the bleeding.

Democratic Representative Mike Schlossberg of Lehigh County said two factors stand out as major causes of job loss in Pennsylvania: automation in manufacturing, and the rise of online shopping.

Since 2002, he said department stores jobs around the country have declined by about 25 percent. His office projects employers in the state could automate up to 280,000 of the state's 560,000 manufacturing jobs over the next two decades.

Schlossberg said the commonwealth should be figuring out how to adapt to that new economy.

"We just need to be sure we're doing everything we can to retrain people," he said. "Some would make the argument--and I think there's some truth to it--that Pennsylvania never really recovered from the collapse of the manufacturing industry."

He said there's a long list of questions lawmakers can be asking themselves to help keep people at work.

"What industries in Pennsylvania are going to suffer the most?" he asked. "Where will the greatest openings be, and how do we need to retrain our workers? "What sort of policies do we need to enact? Where do we need to move money, or put money into?"

The studies would be carried out by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee.

Schlossberg said he expects they'll receive bipartisan support.

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.