Historically Low Unemployment With a Twist

April 30, 2019
Photo by Bruce Mars /​Pexels Historically Low Unemployment With a Twist
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Unemployment in southwestern Pennsylvania hovered at a historically low level in March, despite revisions that wiped away February’s record low.

The unemployment rate in the seven-​county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area was 3.9 percent for March 2019, down .5 percent from March 2018, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

Headlines last month reported a record low unemployment rate for the Pittsburgh region in February. Even President Trump tweeted about this region’s record jobless rate yesterday. But data released this morning revised February’s reported 3.6 percent unemployment up to 4 percent.

The headline is shot, but the story is still true,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at University of Pittsburgh’s University Center for Social and Urban Research. “It’s awfully low unemployment. Other than 2019, we haven’t been below 4 percent unemployment since February 1970. That says something about how low that number was.”

Those lows continued in March across the region. With the exception of Armstrong and Fayette, the other five counties in the Pittsburgh MSA posted unemployment rates below 4 percent. With 3.3 percent unemployment, Butler County had the lowest rate in the Pittsburgh MSA. Fayette County had the highest rate in the region at 4.9 percent unemployment.

The national unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in March — .1 percent below the Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate. It’s a new story for Pittsburgh that the region’s unemployment trend follows the nation’s.

We’re right with the national unemployment rate,” said Briem. “There’s tight labor markets here and tight labor markets in the rest of the nation. The fact that we’re tracking with national labor force trends is a story onto itself. We’ve often done far worse or far better than the nation.”

Low unemployment isn’t sunny news for everyone. Tight labor markets make it difficult for employers looking to fill jobs.

The bottom line is it’s going to be hard to pull workers here when the job markets are tight elsewhere,” said Briem. “And they’re especially tight in the regions where we generally pull from like D.C. and New York.”

Julia Fraser

Julia Fraser is a Pittsburgh Today staff writer and research specialist.

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