Unemployment Drops, Again


Photo by Alexander Day

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Unemployment fell again in December as the Pittsburgh region continued the encouraging trend that characterized 2017.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased .8 percent, from 5.7 percent in December 2016 to 4.9 percent in December 2017 across the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Within the region, Butler and Allegheny counties had the lowest unemployment rates at 4.7 and 4.8, respectively. The unemployment rates in both counties fell by one-half of a percentage point from December 2016.

Fayette County had the highest unemployment rate in the region at 7 percent in December, although the rate fell 1.1 percentage points over the year, one of the steepest declines among Pittsburgh MSA counties.

Although the regional unemployment rate is low and continues to fall, it remains higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.1 in December.

Broad implications

Unemployment has several implications for the region, such as influencing how well it is able to attract workers and residents and keep those already living here from leaving.

“For a long time, the regional unemployment rate was significantly below the national unemployment rate and that was a major factor why there were more people moving into the region than moving out,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research.

“Right now, even though unemployment is low, it’s still above the national unemployment rate, so workers have a lot more options for where they might relocate. That’s the most important issue here.”

In each of the past three years, the number of residents who left the region outnumbered the number of new arrivals.

Such trends are also reflected in the region’s labor force, which is struggling to grow. From December 2016 to December 2017, the number of people in the Pittsburgh MSA’s labor force decreased by 17,400. During that period, the number of unemployed in the region decreased by 12,900.

Briem said it is important to consider longer-term trends that show a fairly stable labor force in the region, noting that monthly economic data tend to fluctuate and are subject to revision when the data is finalized later.

Lowering unemployment below the national rate could help workers by increasing the number of jobs that need to be filled.

“We had people moving in for a bunch of years after decades of people moving away,” said Briem.  “And that’s turned around in the past year or so.  Until you see local conditions that much tighter than the nation, you’re not going to see net migration to the region.”

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