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Thousands give up looking for work in Pa.

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

About 20,000 fewer Pennsylvania residents were unemployed in March than the month before, but many of them had not found jobs — they just stopped looking for work.

A report from the state Department of Labor and Industry on Friday said the decrease in the number of jobless was the highest month-over-month drop in almost 30 years.

But the number of Pennsylvania residents with a job fell by 14,000 to 6 million in March, too. There also was a decline in the size of the labor force, which means the number of employed and active job seekers. Taken together, those declines suggest that a large number of people without jobs were no longer counted as “unemployed,” said economists.

“People were dropping out of the labor force, and that's what led to a decline in the unemployment rate,” said Mark Price, labor economist for Keystone Research Center, Harrisburg.

The state unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent last month from 8.1 percent in February, based on a survey of households.

But Price said the figures are not really healthy economic signs. The labor force fell by 33,000 in March. A drop in the labor force artificially makes the ratio of unemployed look rosier.

“It's nice to see the unemployment rate go down, but it's not good that people stopped looking for a job,” said Price.

The economist said the decline of 33,000 in the labor force was a big drop, especially when it had grown by 47,000 from March 2012. When the labor force grows, it indicates jobless people are encouraged enough to seek employment.

A separate survey of employers showed jobs fell in several sectors, including construction, which had been rising for several months, said Price. Job levels in manufacturing, professional and business services, and trade, transportation and utilities also fell.

Unemployment in leisure and hospitality, government, and education and health services grew.

Price said the March report should “not be given too much weight,” however, because monthly employment numbers “can move around a lot.” But he also said Pennsylvania's jobs report in many ways matched the national report.

A separate report yesterday said unemployment rates fell in 26 states, rose in seven, and were unchanged in 17.

Only 23 states reported a net gain in hiring in March, the fewest since August 2011. Employers cut jobs in 26 states. That was much worse than in February, when 42 states reported job gains. Nationwide, hiring slowed sharply in March. Employers added only 88,000 jobs, down from an average of 220,000 from November through February.

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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