Unemployment Stable but Labor Force Shrinks
Unemployment in the Pittsburgh region held steady in March, but the local workforce continued to contract as it has throughout the pandemic.
The seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 7.5 percent from February to March 2021, according to data from the state Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.
“A big topic is that employers can’t find workers,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research. “No one is disputing that employers are having a hard time finding folks. The question is: Why is the labor force still depressed?”
The regional labor force declined by 1,300 workers in March. But from March 2020 to March 2021, the regional labor force lost 38,400 workers.
Unemployment varies across the region. Butler County posted the lowest rate at 6.1 percent. Fayette County had the highest rate at 9.6 percent. In Allegheny County, which includes the City of Pittsburgh, 7 percent of workers were unemployed in March.
As the state relaxed capacity restrictions on many businesses, employers have been eager to add to their payrolls. Yet employers in the Pittsburgh region and across the country have reported a shortage of workers, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry.
“Employers who are having the hardest time hiring at the moment are in industries that typically have a lot of turnover every year,” Briem said. “Their workers haven’t been sitting around waiting for their jobs to come back. In a normal year, they would’ve turned over. If there is a surge of jobs being opened, employers are being faced with a challenge of finding a surge of workers that would normally spread across the year.”
Understanding and solving the region’s labor force woes may come down to matchmaking, Briem said. “There’s a lot of job matching that has to happen and that is hard. It’s hard for workers, it’s hard for employers and the pandemic has made these challenges much harder.”