The economy in southwest Pennsylvania was stable in August, with the unemployment rate and the labor force peaking, according to the latest data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.
Unemployment in the seven-county Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area remained at 6.2 percent in August 2021 – the same percentage of unemployed in the region in July. While the rate hasn’t moved within a month, it’s a marked improvement from last August when it was 10.2 percent.
“The unemployment rate is higher than we’d like, but not particularly high,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research. “But there was a displacement of many workers under COVID. The unemployment rate does not cover all of these shifts.
“For many employees, it is difficult to switch from one job to another, from one industry to another. It is therefore not surprising that many employers report difficulties in hiring. There are a lot of imbalances in the economy. “
Unemployment varies across the region. Butler County had the lowest unemployment rate in August at 5.6 percent. The highest rate was reported in Fayette County, where 9 percent of workers were unemployed. In Allegheny County, home of the city of Pittsburgh and the metropolitan area of the area, 5.9 percent of workers were unemployed in August.
The Pittsburgh area has been struggling to get workers back into the labor market since the spring 2020 pandemic. Employers in the Pittsburgh area have added 1,100 workers to their payroll since August 2020, while 47,200 fewer people were unemployed.
“The number of people in employment is barely above its COVID low,” said Briem. “At this point the question arises: will we see recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels? Or has there been a reset in the working population? “
The next month could provide better clues as to where the workforce is going. September data could point to the impact of college students returning to campus when they typically occupy lots of jobs and stimulate spending.
“Why are ours [region’s] The number of people in employment is not returning at least moderately, as is the case in other regions? ”Said Briem. “For me the only answer was the college students and we have an older workforce. There is clearly a sign of COVID induced early retirement and our concentration of college students in our economy makes us look worse than other regions. “
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