For unemployed Pittsburgh-area residents, Labor Day 2013 offered some reason for optimism amid the persistent dark clouds that continue to hang over most Americans struggling to find work. There were 6,000 fewer unemployed individuals in the seven-county Pittsburgh metro region in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS), and the year-over-year unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 to 6.7 percent from 2012.
That said, there continues to be a pall hanging over the labor market as the modest upsurge in hiring has seemingly ground to a halt over the last few months. Hiring surveys have borne out the hard reality that the majority of new positions being filled are lower-wage leisure and hospitality-sector jobs—many of which are part-time.
On another less-than-enthusiastic note, as United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard pointed out in a column in Monday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, worker productivity has increased while median household income has shrunk by $2,400 since 2009. Neither of those factors are particularly good news for job seekers in a tight hiring climate.
One area where Pittsburgh showed robust growth was in the Financial Activities sector, in which the region experienced a growth of 5.9 percent over 2012–more than double the rate of the next-closest metro region. The overall labor force in the Pittsburgh region grew by roughly 12,500—or one percent—with an uptick in the number of employed individuals of 1.6 percent over last year.
Nationwide, two-thirds of cities showed a drop in their unemployment rates. That seemingly good news was tempered by the sobering reality that much of the decline in those figures can be attributed to a higher number of discouraged job seekers dropping out of the workforce. The “real unemployment rate,” which includes those labor-market dropouts and part-time workers and the figure that many economists believe is the most revealing, is around 14 percent.
The jobless rate for Pennsylvania remained unchanged in July at 7.5 percent, which matches the lowest level since 2009, according to the Department of Labor & Industry. On the national front, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a point to 7.4 percent—its lowest level in four years. But echoing the good news/ bad news theme, a paltry 162,000 jobs were added nationwide—significantly fewer than economists had predicted and widely considered a dreary number.