Regional joblessness inches down

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For the first time in seven months, seasonally-adjusted unemployment went down in the Pittsburgh region in October, declining by one-tenth of a percentage point from 7.4 percent in September to 7.3 percent.

It was the first decline for local unemployment since March, when the rate dropped to 6.7 percent from 6.8 percent in February.

The unemployment report also includes results from a survey of employers, which is not seasonally adjusted, that showed the region had gained 9,300 jobs since September. According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, those job gains included holiday hiring by retailers who added 2,200 seasonal employees to their payrolls.

In a year-over-year comparison, there were just 6,200 more jobs in the region last month than there were in October 2011, a 0.5 percent increase. While private employers added 8,600 jobs, that gain was undercut over the year by losses in government employment.

Local governments in the seven-county region cut a total of 2,200 jobs, half of them in the local schools. State government employment was the same as it had been in October of last year and federal government employment fell by 200.

PG graphic: Regional jobless rate at 7.3%
(Click image for larger version)

The education and health services sector was up in October by 3,600 workers as colleges and universities got into full swing and added 3,000 employees over September, but there were still 600 fewer people employed by colleges and universities than in October 2011. General medical hospitals cut 100 jobs from September to October and were down by 700 employees in the region from October 2011.

Social assistance workers lost 300 jobs in October from September and were down by 1,200 positions from last year.

The local unemployment rate, however, was welcome news after a challenging summer.

Mark Price, an economist with the Keystone Research Center, said the region could be back on track with the recovery. He said the fact that last month's unemployment rate of 7.3 percent is still slightly higher than the October 2011 rate of 7.2 percent shows how much ground the region lost over the summer.

Sometimes, when the economy is rough, there will be a paradoxical drop in unemployment because discouraged people quit looking for work and drop out of the labor market, but in October the number of people who said they were working rose by 5,000 even as the number of people who said they were unemployed declined by 800.

The counties that make up the Pittsburgh region are Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland.

The unemployment rate fell in all of them except Beaver and Washington, where the unemployment rates stayed level at 7.5 percent and 7.4 percent respectively.

Allegheny and Armstrong each experienced declines of two-tenths of a percentage point, with Allegheny seeing a decrease from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent and Armstrong's rate dropping from 9 percent to 8.8 percent. Westmoreland's rate declined from 7.5 percent to 7.4 percent.

Fayette, which continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the region, experienced a one-tenth of a percentage point decline from 9.5 percent to 9.4 percent.

Butler, which has had the lowest unemployment rate in the region, fell still lower from 6.5 percent in September to 6.4 percent in October.

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


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