Pittsburgh saw puzzling rise in jobless claims in Q4 2012

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During the fourth quarter of 2012, when most of the rest of the country was seeing initial unemployment claims from mass layoffs decline, the Pittsburgh region instead saw a spike.

The news was contained in a table buried in a release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding mass layoffs, which overall nationwide, were down.

It was the kind of data that makes an economist go "hmmm."

Sara Goulet, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor and Industry, said the economists there were puzzled by the data. They knew there were some layoffs in the steel industry nationwide that might have hit Pittsburgh. School bus drivers get laid off for weeks at a time because of Christmas break. Some coal mines laid off workers in West Virginia that could have had a ripple effect. But, she said, "they couldn't point to one thing."

Pittsburgh's ranking jumped from 14th in the fourth quarter of 2011 to seventh in the same period in 2012, among 372 metropolitan areas for initial unemployment claims related to mass layoffs.

And while all of the other cities in the top 10 saw the number of those claims decline, Pittsburgh's rose from 3,490 to 4,209.

"Is there something about the Pittsburgh [metropolitan statistical area] that's different?" asked Ms. Goulet. She said the economists in her office looked but "could not find anything."

That piece of data is not bad news by itself, said Mark Price, a labor economist for the Keystone Research Center, because the news from employers most recently is that they are still hiring.

"The employment data for the region has always been very volatile," he said. "In fact, since September the metro has added 9,600 jobs."

Other factors affecting mass layoffs could be seasonal, he said. "A big driver, always, in mass layoffs in the fourth quarter is going to be construction -- seasonal layoffs," he said.

In Pennsylvania overall, there were seven more mass layoffs this quarter than in the same quarter last year and 854 more initial claimants.

Mr. Price said Pittsburgh could have been disproportionately by affected by big projects closing down for the winter months. Mining, which includes oil and gas extraction, also had 15 mass layoffs in Pennsylvania during the year and seven of them were in November.

businessnews - employment

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


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