Problem in Pittsburgh?

Benjamin Chun /​/​Flickr Problem in Pittsburgh?
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Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate, reported for the latest available month, April 2016, bumped up for the third month in a row to 5.8%. On the surface this is a disturbing figure given that most cities in our cohort group are experiencing falling unemployment rates. The unemployment rate in Charlotte is now down for the third consecutive month to 4.8%, St. Louis’ rate is 4.5%, Cleveland’s is 4.8%, Cincinnati’s is 4.2%, Columbus’ is 3.9% and Nashville’s is 3.1%. Is Pittsburgh back to being a Rust Belt also-​ran in job growth? Or is the uptick in job seekers a sign of optimism among the region’s workers that will lead to more overall employment?

Equally disturbing is that Pittsburgh was one of two metro areas highlighted in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ May press release as having the largest increase in unemployment year-​over-​year, surpassed only by Houston. Maybe because both are overly energy dependent? Houston is for sure, but I thought energy was only a part of the diversifying Pittsburgh region’s economy? Apparently we’ve been more reliant on those jobs than I thought.

But all is not totally bleak. Looking beyond the anecdotal reports of expanding high tech firms and new startups in the region, the latest statistics show a growth in the total Pittsburgh labor force of over 15,000 and more heartening, an additional 16,100 jobs added in the one month since April. This is quite impressive relative to the region’s anemic job creation performance of even the so-​called energy boom times a few years back. If we can maintain that level of job creation, the local economy may actually be getting somewhere. I still maintain that income levels are of equal if not greater importance when determining a region’s economic success. However, until we get statistics on those – and they are measured less frequently than employment rates – we will have to stew over these April jobs numbers. The region simply has to do better.

Paul Scripko

Paul Scripko started life in the Mon Valley south of Pittsburgh and after attending McKeepsort’s Serra High School, Pitt, and grad school at Harvard, he’s had a career on Wall Street and in high tech, both of which allowed him to enjoy many of the world’s great cities. Viewing Pittsburgh from a distance resulted in his ongoing commentary about Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania. He discovered that a bit of distance does indeed provide a better perspective. His goal is to prod Pittsburghers to recognize issues that need addressing, while embracing the region’s world-​class strengths and opportunities.

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