Pennsylvania unemployment dips to lowest level since September 2008

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The un­em­ploy­ment rate in Penn­syl­va­nia kept drop­ping in May, fall­ing for the 10th month in a row. A tenth of a per­cent­age point drop brought the sea­son­ally ad­justed rate to 5.6 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased Fri­day by the state Depart­ment of La­bor and In­dus­try.

That meant that for the last two months, the state’s job­less rate has been at its low­est level since Sep­tem­ber 2008, the point at which the na­tion’s fi­nan­cial mar­kets be­gan melt­ing down. A year ago in May, state un­em­ploy­ment was 7.5 per­cent.

Na­tion­ally, un­em­ploy­ment sat at 6.3 per­cent this May.

At the state level, Rhode Island posted the high­est un­em­ploy­ment rate at 8.2 per­cent, while North Da­kota had the low­est at 2.6 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics.

Penn­syl­va­nia added 24,700 jobs in May, trail­ing only Texas in sheer num­ber of job gains and push­ing the Key­stone State’s job to­tal to 5.8 mil­lion — the high­est level since 2008, ac­cord­ing to state and fed­eral la­bor of­fi­cials. Most of the gains came from the pri­vate sec­tor, which added 21,700 jobs com­pared to 3,000 for the pub­lic sec­tor.

Over the past 12 months, to­tal nonfarm jobs in Penn­syl­va­nia are up 62,400, or 1.1 per­cent.

“This is en­cour­ag­ing, but I think we still have a long way to go,” said Natalie Sabadish, an an­a­lyst with Key­stone Re­search Center, a non­profit eco­nomic re­search group based in Har­ris­burg.

Ms. Sabadish said she’d like to see Penn­syl­va­nia put to­gether a few more months of con­sis­tent job gains to prove that it is on a sus­tain­able path. The state con­tin­ues to rank in the bot­tom fifth of states as mea­sured by per­cent­age job growth over the past 12 months, she said.

The lat­est num­bers from the state weren’t all up­beat.

In April, Penn­syl­va­nia’s ci­vil­ian la­bor force had held steady — an in­di­ca­tion of sta­bil­ity in the num­ber of peo­ple work­ing or look­ing for work — af­ter a gain of 12,000 in March. But the pic­ture changed in May: The num­ber of Penn­syl­va­nians em­ployed or ap­ply­ing for jobs dropped by 12,000 to 6.43 mil­lion.

People can leave the work­force for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, such as re­tir­ing or go­ing to school, but a fac­tor cited by an­a­lysts in re­cent years has been work­ers be­com­ing dis­cour­aged by the lack of avail­able jobs.

The state re­ported a to­tal of 363,000 peo­ple were un­em­ployed last month, down from 368,000 in April. The ranks of the em­ployed dropped by 6,000 to 6.07 mil­lion.

In May, sec­tors that showed by the big­gest gains in Penn­syl­va­nia in­cluded lei­sure and hos­pi­tal­ity, which added 6,800 jobs to em­ploy 550,000, and ed­u­ca­tion and health ser­vices, which added 5,900 jobs for a to­tal of 1.17 mil­lion jobs. Those are pri­vate sec­tor po­si­tions.

Govern­ments in Penn­syl­va­nia added 3,000 jobs dur­ing the month to hit a to­tal of 717,000. Still, the gov­ern­ment sec­tor is still down 4,500 jobs over the past 12 months and down 600 since Jan­u­ary — mostly through ed­u­ca­tion job cuts, said Ms. Sabadish.

The con­struc­tion sec­tor added 2,200 jobs in May to reach a to­tal of 236,800 jobs. That sec­tor is up 5 per­cent over the last 12 months, she said.

The state ad­justs the num­bers to fac­tor out sea­sonal swings.

Brian Hyslop: or 412-263-1936. First Published June 20, 2014 12:00 AM

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