Beige Book report shows static jobs market

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Employers are still having a hard time finding skilled workers, but that doesn't mean they are paying more to attract them, according to the Federal Reserve Board.

The nation's central bank released its report known as the Beige Book on Wednesday, a periodic update on how businesspeople are experiencing the current economy. The report last came out in mid-October.

The overall theme is the same as it has been since the official end of the Great Recession in 2009 -- the economy is growing, but not by much. The Fed used the words "modest" and "moderate" to describe the rate of growth over the last six weeks.

The Federal Reserve reported that employers were hiring either at the same rate as earlier in the fall or just a little more quickly. Nationally, employers reported struggling to find highly skilled workers but said "upward pressure on wages and overall prices remained contained."

Companies in the Cleveland district, which includes Pittsburgh, reported some pressure to pay workers more in craft labor, engineering, information technology and accounting jobs.

The Fed's business contacts had concerns about costs associated with the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law that has been changing insurance rules. In addition, the period covered by the report contained the bulk of the 16-day partial government shutdown and businesses said it did have an effect on their bottom lines.

Defense contractors in the district that includes Pittsburgh also said they are "coping with uncertainty" because of issues regarding the federal budget.

Sales of single-family homes were down in the Cleveland district. Builders told the Federal Reserve that seasonal factors and consumer confidence slowed sales. Real estate professionals reported a decline in the number of first-time homebuyers.

Housing sales in the region have been running counter to the rest of the country. Sales are improving in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis and San Francisco. Those regions were strong enough to pull up home sales nationally.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday that new home sales were up by 21.6 percent over October 2012, and the median price for a new home was $245,800. The median price was down by $11,600 from September.

Manufacturers offered some good news as "factories showed that demand was steady to growing at a robust pace during the last six weeks."

Manufacturers in aerospace, housing, motor vehicle and the oil and gas industries reported strong activity. Steel manufacturers were not doing as well and did not expect the market for steel to change much in the near future.

Auto dealers said sales were down on a month-over-month basis, but up when compared to a year ago. Other retailers offered mixed reports, with some citing a weakening in consumer confidence as a factor in flat or lower sales figures while others said wider product selections and better promotions led to higher sales.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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