Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pittsburgh-Area Jobless Rate Dips Below 8 Percent

By Joyce Gannon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Holiday hiring in the retail sector helped boost the jobs report for December in the Pittsburgh area as the unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent. That's down from a jobless rate of 8.1 percent in November 2010, and 8.2 percent in December 2009. The local rate remained lower than both the state and federal unemployment rates in December, which stood at 8.5 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively.

Compared with December 2009, there were 9,000 more jobs in the Pittsburgh region -- the largest yearly jump since August 2007, according to the state Department of Labor & Industry, which released the numbers today.

"The Pittsburgh region continues to do a bit better than the rest of the state," said Mark Price, a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg. "If you look at averages, for the past three months the region was adding around 900 jobs a month. That's a fairly healthy number."

Despite the overall improvement, seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs in the Pittsburgh region fell for the first time in three months, the state Department of Labor & Industry reported. The number of nonfarm jobs fell by 200 to a total 1.1 million.

Mr. Price called that a "blip" in the ongoing recovery. "We are in a recovery, and the expectation is we'll continue to add jobs in the months ahead," he said.

Among the data not seasonally adjusted, goods-producing jobs in the region dropped by 4,400 to 143,200. The state attributed most of that decline to a loss of 4,200 construction jobs. Manufacturing jobs fell by 200 to 85,700, marking the first time since July that manufacturing jobs declined.

Although seasonal retail hiring grew, it was the smallest December increase in retail hiring since 1992, the report said.

Another sector that showed a significant drop from November to December was professional and business services, which lost a total of 900 jobs. The big declines came in administrative and support services.

The Pittsburgh metropolitan area, which has 1.2 million people in its civilian labor force, includes Allegheny, Butler, Beaver, Armstrong, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Of those, Fayette had the highest unemployment rate in December at 10.2 percent; and Butler had the lowest at 7.3 percent.

In both Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh, the jobless rate stood at 7.5 percent for the month. Among major labor markets statewide, Scranton-Wilkes Barre had the highest unemployment rate at 9.5 percent and State College had the lowest at 5.8 percent.

The Pittsburgh region has lost a total of 27,000 jobs since before the recession started in 2007, said Mr. Price. "So it's still a healthy wait" to get those jobs back, he noted. "The recession was so deep, it will take longer than normal."

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