Thousands of workers continued to leave the workforce in southwest Pennsylvania, and local unemployment rates soared as the 2020 pandemic year ended.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area rose from 6.7 percent in November to 6.8 percent in December 2020, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor Center for Workforce Information & Analysis program data.
During the holiday season, some counties in the region fared better than others. Butler County had the lowest unemployment rate at 5.9 percent. Fayette County, where 8.6 percent of the workforce was unemployed, had the highest rate in the Pittsburgh MSA. In Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, 6.7 percent of the workforce were unemployed in December.
The slight month-on-month increase in unemployment isn’t a problem, however, said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research. “It’s the workforce. The workforce has shrunk and has shown no sign of recovering from the springtime contraction of the workforce caused by COVID. “
The workforce in southwest Pennsylvania was 1,000 fewer in December than in November. The workforce has steadily lost workforce since last April, shortly after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in the region.
However, the losses over a one-year period are more severe. The regional workforce lost 58,600 workers from December 2019 to December 2020.
Several reasons could be to blame. Distance learning, business restrictions, and social gatherings have changed the personal and work lives of many people. Changes in public behavior during the pandemic have shifted the workforce. “Childcare and care for the elderly put a strain on people,” said Briem.
The pandemic could lead to more women leaving the workforce and more older workers to retire early. COVID restrictions for colleges and universities could also be a factor. “On site, I think there are so many students here who actually work part-time or full-time,” said Briem. “The fact that there aren’t that many of them here this year will be part of the decline in the workforce.”