Jobs in Pittsburgh expanding more slowly than in other cities

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In measuring economic data, it's not where you finish, it's where you start.

For instance, Pittsburgh did not do as badly during the 2007 housing bust because real estate prices in the region didn't soar during the boom.

Or as Marc Louragand, then president of the American Real Estate Society and a principal with Saltash Partners LLC in Hartford, Conn., said then, "Pittsburgh doesn't have a hangover because it wasn't at the party."

Nearly four years after the official end of the Great Recession, the party is once again raging while Pittsburgh is home in front of the TV. In the past year, Pittsburgh ranked 32nd of the top 40 metropolitan areas for job growth.

PG graphic: Job growth in Pittsburgh
(Click image for larger version)

Just six months ago, Pittsburgh was doing better.

In November, the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., named Pittsburgh as one of three major metros, along with Dallas and Knoxville, Tenn, that had recovered from the recession.

At the time, the Allegheny Conference on Community Development touted that not only did Pittsburgh have more jobs than it had before the recession, there were more jobs in the region than there had ever been.

By April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the region had 1,170,000 jobs, below November's record of 1,174,000.

Other metropolitan areas are ramping up their job growth -- and soaring ahead of Pittsburgh.

In April, Austin, Texas, had 73,500 more jobs than it had in April 2008, at the start of the recession, which means the number of jobs have grown there by 9.5 percent. Houston has added a net of 184,500 jobs in the last five years, a growth rate of 7.1 percent. In comparison, Pittsburgh's growth of jobs over the last five years was much lower at 1.7 percent, as the region has added those 20,000 jobs.

While the Pittsburgh region has almost returned to the 2001 level of jobs, there also are almost 50,000 more people in the local labor force.

In November 2001, the seven counties surrounding Pittsburgh that make up the Metropolitan Statistical area had a labor force of 1.2 million and 5.1 percent unemployment. Since then, the labor force has added nearly 50,000 more people, so as of March there were 91,300 unemployed people in the seven-county area that includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties. In March, according to the State Department of Labor and Industry, the region's unemployment rate was 7.3 percent.

The growing labor force and the increase in jobs combined with high unemployment suggests that it is not unemployed residents who are getting the newly created jobs, but that those jobs are going to people moving to the region.

Harold Miller, president of Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Future Strategies, said while the good news is that the region has added 20,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession, the bad news is they aren't the same jobs that were lost. The Pittsburgh region lost 9,200 manufacturing jobs since 2008. During that same time period, it gained 17,500 jobs in professional and business services, which is made up mostly of administrative workers, managers, bookkeepers, engineers, architects, lawyers and waste company employees.

While salaries could be on par between manufacturing and professional and business services, the skills are vastly different.

At the Community College of Allegheny County, 496 people took advantage of the Dislocated Workers program from spring 2009 through the summer of 2012. The program provides free tuition to people who were laid off because of economic reasons.

The career training programs that were eligible for free tuition included accounting, administrative computer specialist and computer aided drafting, which would be professional and business services jobs.

Other training programs were for medical fields.

Medical training is in high demand since that sector has seen a net gain of 9,900 jobs in the last five years, mostly in doctors offices and other out-patient facilities.

A survey of CCAC graduates who said they were enrolled either because they had lost a job or were afraid of losing their job showed most sought out a degree in nursing, two times more than the second place finisher, which was a liberal arts degree with plans to go on to a four-year degree.

In 2012, CCAC graduated 413 nurses, which was more than any other two-year program in the country, CCAC spokesman David Hoovler said.

George Mokrzan, an economist for Huntington Bank in Columbus, said while nationwide job growth since the recession has lagged behind job growth of every other recovery since World War II, there are positive signs: The household debt service ratio, a measure of how much of their income people pay in interest rates, is at the lowest level in 30 years. Also, the average work week for manufacturing workers is up, a sign there may be hiring to come.

"It's still an improving situation but it's still not, ultimately, where the Pittsburgh area wants to be. There's still a lot of unemployment out there. There is still a lot of dislocation," he said.

region - businessnews

Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699. First Published May 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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