Unemployment Drops; More Workers Needed
Unemployment ticked down in southwestern Pennsylvania to begin 2022, but the region’s labor force woes persisted, according to the latest Pennsylvania Department of Labor data.
In January, 5.1 percent of workers in seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area were unemployed –a drop from 5.3 percent in December 2021. But the unemployment rate in the region remained above the national rate of 4 percent.
Some counties in the Pittsburgh region fared better than others to start the new year. Butler County held the lowest unemployment rate at 4.4 percent, while Fayette County held the highest rate at 7.1 percent. Allegheny County, home to the city of Pittsburgh, had an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.
“The little bit of employment gain is great, but it’s still been pretty flat since the fall of 2020,” said Chris Briem, a regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh University Center for Social and Urban Research. “There’s been a reset.”
The region’s labor force got a boost in January with 1,200 workers added to the labor force from December 2021 to January 2022. But the modest monthly gain wasn’t enough to make up for deep labor force losses since the pandemic began in 2020. From January 2021 to January 2022, 19,700 workers exited the region’s labor force.
The reasons behind the losses include from people taking early retirements, going back to school or leaving the workforce to care for children or elderly family members continue. Many are not expected to return to work.
“All these factors have been significant and they all compound,” Briem said. “I don’t think you’re going to see people coming back from retirement. I think many more people have made permanent changes in their labor force status than we’ve been assuming. There will be some marginal shifts going forward, but I don’t think we’re going to snap back to where we were before COVID.”