Unemployment in southwest Pennsylvania fell in April, but the area’s labor force did not grow much from the previous year’s level when it shrank at the height of the pandemic-induced business closings and restrictions.
Unemployment in the seven counties of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area fell from 7.6 percent in March 2021 to 7.4 percent in April, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor Center for Workforce Information & Analysis.
Butler County continued to have the lowest unemployment rate in the region at 5.6 percent. In Fayette County, 9.2 percent of workers were unemployed – the highest rate in the region. In Allegheny County, which includes the city of Pittsburgh, 6.5 percent of workers were unemployed in April.
Last month’s unemployment rate contrasted sharply with the region’s 17.1 percent unemployment rate in April 2020.
While 112,100 fewer workers were unemployed in the region in April than a year earlier, the workforce in the region only grew by 400 workers.
“The bottom line is that the number of people in work remains unchanged and has not come back,” said Chris Briem, regional economist at the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s about the same as the peak pandemic. The question is, where are these people? “
The reasons people left the labor force in the past year range from women quitting their jobs to look after their children and people needing to look after older adults, to a shift in work preferences and more older workers who choose to quit.
“There are many reasons to believe that many of these people don’t plan on returning anytime soon. Some of these people have left the region, ”said Briem. “We have an older workforce here and there is some evidence across the country that older workers have taken early retirement.”
Working students play a role in the region’s economy, and some may not have returned to school in the last semester. But younger workers here may face a surge in job opportunities.
“Many workers, especially younger workers, are likely to have job opportunities that they didn’t have before,” said Briem. “Certain employers who can no longer pay or offer many benefits will be hardest hit when they can’t keep up.”