Region did better in recession than it did during recovery
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It is the paradox of the Pittsburgh economy that the region can be among the top 20 strongest metropolitan areas through the recession and recovery, and among the weakest 20 regions for the recovery alone.
That's because this region, which never really boomed, never truly busted either. Instead, like a latex balloon the day after the birthday party, the economy slowly shriveled.
Pittsburgh's split rankings are unusual among the metropolitan areas included on the lists being released today by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program. Other regions, such as the Texas regions of Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and McAllen; Salt Lake City; and Washington, D.C., were listed as having the strongest economies both for the time period covering the recession and recovery, and for the recovery itself.
Detroit, Las Vegas and Youngstown, Ohio, were among the weakest on both lists.
Howard Wial, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said Pittsburgh was sustained through the recession by its hospitals and colleges, or "eds and meds."
But while other regions that were strong through the recession are seeing tremendous growth, Pittsburgh is suffering from anemic growth in its gross metropolitan product. The region ranked 87 out of 100 metropolitan regions for growth in GMP since the lowest point of the recession and 98th for the last quarter when the region's GMP dropped 0.2 percent.
The biggest component of that, Mr. Wial said, is wages.
"Just because you got away relatively lightly on the recession doesn't mean you can't have a strong recovery," Mr. Wial said. "Pittsburgh is in pretty good shape, other than GMP."
The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board noticed that one of the groups that had taken a hit was professionals.
In a study of wages, the board found that people who have a professional degree, such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, have seen their wages drop from $63.63 an hour in 2007 at the start of the recession to $58.97 an hour in 2010. The hourly rate remains higher than any other educated class, but is still a significant weakening of economic heft.
People with doctorates saw their wages rise from $35.18 an hour to $44.67 an hour over the same time period, but a much larger class of workers -- those with bachelor's degrees -- also experienced a decline, from $28.58 an hour in 2007 to $27.29 in 2010.
Stefani Pashman, CEO of the workforce investment board, said, "There doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern."
She noted that while people with master's degrees also saw their hourly wages increase, they still tended to earn less than others with advanced degrees because people whose educations terminate in a master's are often in social work or nonprofits. They saw their incomes rise from $21.50 an hour in 2007 to $22.70 in 2010.
Meanwhile, workers with associate degrees make more than workers who have their master's and saw their incomes rise from $23.51 an hour to $25.74.
The region was second in the country for real estate values from the peak before the recession, losing just 6.5 percent of housing values while the average for the top 100 metropolitan areas was a loss of 26.5 percent.
The region was seventh for losing jobs from the peak in 2008 through the recession, losing just 1.5 percent of its employment, while the average for the other large metropolitan areas was a 5.3 percent drop in employment.
Correction/Clarification: (Published June 23, 2011) A chart that accompanied Wednesday's story on changing wages in the Pittsburgh region should have shown dollars per hour. For example, where the chart listed $10,000, it should have been $10 per hour.
First Published June 22, 2011 12:00 am