Unemployment Trends Downward

Photo by Jörg Schubert Photo by Jörg Schubert

The Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate continued to move lower in February but remains higher than what is seen nationwide.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area fell .4 percent to 4.8 percent over the 12-month period ending in February, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

Allegheny and Butler counties shared unemployment rates of 4.6 percent, which was the lowest rate in the seven-county Pittsburgh MSA in February.

The most recent data are also positive news for the City of Pittsburgh. Cities often have significantly higher rates of unemployment than many outlying municipalities. The City of Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, only slightly above the average for the MSA.

“It’s pretty remarkable that our urban core here is doing about as well as the region is doing,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research. “There’s not concentrated unemployment in the city of Pittsburgh. The weakest part is the outer counties.”

February unemployment decreased in each Pittsburgh MSA county. Armstrong and Fayette County held the highest unemployment rates in the region 6.0 and 6.5 percent, respectively.

Labor force shrinks

The region is still in the grip of a tight labor market that has contracted in recent months. From February 2017 to February 2018, the number of people in the labor force in the Pittsburgh region decreased by 4,900 while the number of unemployed decreased by 4,700.

While unemployment in the region is objectively low, it’s still not on pace with the nation. The national unemployment rate continues to hold a 17-year low of 4.1 percent for the past five months, and the number of job openings continues to rise.

Southwestern Pennsylvania, where job growth has been tepid, is competing with other regions for workers, including a 12-state Midwest region where there are 180,000 more job openings than there are unemployed workers to fill them, according to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

“For us, what that means is that while 4.8 percent unemployment is low, there are some places in the country with some pretty severe labor shortages,” said Briem. “If you want people to come to Pittsburgh they are going to have some other options elsewhere. Local employers might be faced with a greater competition for workers than they have in quite awhile.”