The Pittsburgh space’s workforce is shrinking dramatically (and unemployment is rising)

The Pittsburgh area’s unemployment rate rose and thousands of workers in the area left the workforce in January as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to weigh on the local economy.

Unemployment rose from 6.8 percent in December to 7.6 percent in January.

The January surge is more dramatic than it was in January 2020, when the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent two months before the pandemic broke out in southwestern Pennsylvania. The number of unemployed increased by 32,800 over that 12 month period, according to program data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.

“That’s not so surprising in a COVID context,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research. “Unemployment has risen by what is usually a fairly large amount. But there have been much larger fluctuations in these COVID times. “

Butler County started the year with the lowest unemployment rate in the region of 6.6 percent. Fayette County had an unemployment rate of 10 percent, the highest in the region. In Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, 7.6 percent of the workforce were unemployed in January.

The decline in the regional workforce is another problem. The labor force lost 46,200 workers from January 2020 to January 2021.

“The biggest story is that the number of workers in the region has not increased noticeably,” said Briem. “The fact is we got a lot of the jobs back from the worst of spring, but the workforce has not returned at all. The size of the working population does not differ significantly from that in 1991. “

National reports suggest that women dropped out of the labor force in large numbers during the pandemic. When schools resumed in September – many of them practiced distance learning – 80 percent of people who left the workforce were women, according to a McKinsey & Company analysis of the US Census Bureau data. The following month, female labor force participation fell to 57 percent – its lowest level since 1988, according to a recent report from the National Women’s Law Center.

Several factors are contributing to the decline in the regional workforce, including long-term care and its disproportionate impact on women, early retirement and fewer student workers on campus this year or students not working at normal rates, Briem said.

“As soon as the public health problems subside, jobs will likely recover,” said Briem. “If there are no workers to fill these jobs, it will likely be one of the bigger economic problems affecting the region due to the pandemic. The region should focus on getting people back into work. However, this will be a challenge as all regions will face a similar situation. “

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