Unemployment declines in Pittsburgh metropolitan region

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Workers are continuing to drop out of the labor force despite a slowly growing job market in the Pittsburgh region, according to figures released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Pittsburgh’‍s seven-county metropolitan statistical area declined slightly from 5.6 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May. Much of that decline, however, was because more people dropped out of the workforce than got jobs.

While the number of unemployed people fell by 1,300, there were just 300 more people who were employed as the labor force fell by 900. (The numbers do not add up perfectly because of rounding.)

The good news is that the regional unemployment rate has fallen by 1.4 percent over the last year. Even some of that decline, though, was because of a shrinking labor force.

The Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area is made up of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Over the past year, the number of unemployed people in the region has fallen by nearly 18,000. While the working population has grown by more than 12,000, there were also about 6,000 people who dropped out of the labor force all together. That is equal to a decline of the labor force of close to one-half of a percentage point over the last year.

Nationally, the labor force participation rate is at a four-decade low, mostly because of retiring baby boomers.

Employers added 11,000 of jobs locally in May, which is normally a time of robust job growth. From May 2013 to May 2014, employers added 7,700 jobs, or 0.6 percent more jobs than the region had last year.

Overall, it was a better year-over-year gain than the region experienced in 2013.

Mark Price, a labor economist for the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, said the region has an average job growth of 2,420 jobs a month since January. That’‍s much better than 2013 when, for the same time period, the metropolitan area added an average of 100 jobs a month.

“We’re certainly having a better year than last year, but that’‍s a terribly low bar,” he said.

The biggest growth industry year over year, both by the sheer number of jobs and in terms of percentage, was in one of the lowest paying sectors. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes local attractions, hotels, bars and restaurants added 7,200 workers, an increase of 6 percent over May 2013.

Other sectors saw significant losses in a year-over-year comparison. Manufacturing lost 2,300 jobs, or nearly 3 percent of its workforce.

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699 First Published July 1, 2014 10:48 AM

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