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Rise in Western Pa. jobless rate signals slowdown in economy

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Unemployment in the Pittsburgh region edged higher in December to 7.3 percent as area employers chopped 3,500 jobs during the month, a state report issued on Monday said.

Jobs at employers in the seven-county area slid to 1,176,500 last month from 1,180,000 in November, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

Economists said the drop-off of 3,500 jobs mostly related to seasonal factors, such as a decrease in construction employment in colder weather and temporary layoffs at colleges for the holiday break. The figures come from a survey of employers.

“This report rounds out 2012 concisely: Growth slowed and even declined over the course of the year,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

Rankin described the region's economy as currently “moving sideways.”

December's jobless rate rose by one-tenth of percentage point from 7.2 percent in November. The region's unemployment rate, which reflects seasonal adjustments, stood at 7.0 percent in December 2011.

“The unemployment rate is flat, just moving a tenth here and there,” the economist said. “Pittsburgh is not going anywhere. Its economy has stalled.”

Rankin projects the region's unemployment rate is unlikely to decline much until about mid-year.

In addition, the number of unemployed people rose by 900 to 92,000 last month from 91,000 in November on a seasonally adjusted basis. That data comes from a separate survey of residents.

Jake Haulk, economist and president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, Castle Shannon, said year-over-year job growth totals fell with each new quarter last year on an unadjusted basis. The average number of jobs in first-quarter 2012 was 22,000 higher than a year before. But by the fourth quarter, year-over-year growth dwindled to 9,500.

“We've had a dramatic slowing in the growth rate,” Haulk said.

The economist noted college and university jobs fell by 1,600 in December from year-ago levels, and social assistance jobs were down by 900. Those job drops were offset by a 4,300-job pickup in professional and technical employment, which Haulk said was “sustaining at a pretty strong pace.”

The seven-county region covers Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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