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Pittsburgh-area unemployment rate drops to 7.3 percent in March

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By Thomas Olson
Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 1:36 p.m.
 

The Pittsburgh region's post-recession recovery continued to lose steam in March, as fewer residents were confident enough in the economy to search for work, a report Tuesday showed.

About 5,400 people in the seven-county area dropped out of the labor force, said the state Department of Labor & Industry. It said the region added a modest 1,400 jobs, in part because of gains in sectors such as construction and business and professional services.

“We're still creating jobs, but only slowly,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “And that's being overshadowed by those falling out of the labor force.”

Rankin said the disappointing labor force numbers dampened news of an improvement in the unemployment rate, which fell to 7.3 percent in March from 7.5 percent in February.

The unemployment rate decreased partly because many people stopped looking for work, Rankin said. When people stop looking for a job, they no longer are counted as part of the labor force, which artificially lowers the rate.

Rankin said job growth “decelerated” in the past three years after the recession officially ended in 2009. The size of the labor force and the number of new jobs grew in 2010 and 2011, he said. The labor force kept growing last year, but job growth began to slacken.

“In 2013, we see that people are no longer as optimistic,” Rankin said. “Job growth is not providing people with enough confidence they can go out and find a job.”

The state agency adjusted the February rate to 7.5 percent from the 7.4 percent it initially estimated, based on a survey of residents and adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. The rate was 7.0 percent in March 2012.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent from 8.1 percent in February, but was still worse than the nation's 7.6 percent rate, which was down from 7.7 percent in February.

The Pittsburgh region's labor market “is not a rosy one,” said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon.

But it is “encouraging,” Haulk said, that professional and business services added 2,700 jobs in March over February, based on a survey of employers and not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Construction added 2,600 jobs in March.

Thomas Olson is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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