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Pittsburgh Region Sees Economic Growth Compared To Early In The Pandemic, Expected To Accelerate

Matt Rourke

On today’s program: The region’s economy has improved with unemployment lower and consumer confidence on the rise, but there are still targeted efforts needed to help get employment and economic growth back to pre-pandemic levels; and how can the region best support residents in need as federal, state and local aid given during the pandemic phases out.

Pittsburgh regional economic growth is still behind pre-pandemic times, but improving (0:00 - 7:50)

The unemployment rate in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region in April 2021 was 6.8 percent. While this is a significant improvement from April 2020, the region is still not back to pre-pandemic employment and economic growth.

The Allegheny Conference on Community Development analyzed economic trends impacting the region from January 2020 to May 2021.

Vera Krekanova is the chief strategy and research officer for the Allegheny Conference. She says there are clear signs of recovery in the regional economy, such as consumer confidence and employment levels.

According to Krekanova, the Allegheny Conference surveys show that the top two reasons people left the workforce are lack of daycare and dependent care, and public transportation.

“We have to keep in mind that a lot of our population is aging or people are older,” she says. “But they are simultaneously caring for children and their parents, and both kinds of capacity and programs that were available to help with childcare and taking care of aging parents… might not necessarily be fully available or back.”

The analysis shows that certain demographics are more impacted than others. The 35–44 age segment is seeing higher unemployment rates, and the Black population is also disproportionately impacted.

“Businesses feel more optimistic about their prospects for [the second half of this year],” Krekanova says. “We also see strengthening confidence on the consumer side, what we see is fairly strong spending. So the question is not: 'Will the region improve?' But: 'Will everybody in the region improve?'”

Pittsburgh-based aid organizations say supports for basic needs should be priority post-pandemic (8:00-18:00)

The CDC’s eviction moratorium ends on June 30, a signal that other aid programs that helped people during the pandemic could be winding down.

But, there’s no formal plan for how to help people transition out of receiving aid.

Taylor Stessney serves as the co-director and cofounder of Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid, a mutual aid organization, and Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy is the executive director of Pittsburgh United, a coalition that advocates and supports those in need. They both said that the pandemic brought to the forefront how unjust labor, housing and support services were hurting the community.

“The inequality that existed before the pandemic and that was exacerbated by the pandemic is still very much with us and with people in the community,” Rafanan Kennedy says. “I think people are still tired and anxious and need a lot of support in order to have a just transition.”

Stessney and Rafanan Kennedy agreed that community members are still seeking and receiving aid despite the winding down of certain programs.

Restaurant and hospitality workers were hit particularly hard during the pandemic, but Stessney says they are concerned about returning to an industry with low wages and inadequate supports.

“The sub-minimum tipped wage right now, $2.83 in Pennsylvania, that’s not OK, it hasn’t changed in over 25 years, and it still seems pretty slow to change even though I think the pandemic did open the eyes for those not in the industry to realize how much we depend on tips, at least front of house workers to get by,” Stressney says.

Rafanan Kennedy says as states start to distribute funds to help communities recover from the pandemic, those impacted need a seat at the table.

“We need to rethink how we treat each other,” she says. “So many in our community came together to try to take care of everyone. We had essential workers who stepped up in jobs that frankly people didn’t think were essential before the pandemic, and the pandemic forced us to rethink that.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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