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Pittsburgh-area jobless rate hit four-year low in June

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 10:09 a.m.

Unemployment in the Pittsburgh region declined to 6.8 percent in June, the lowest level in more than four years, signaling that the local economy is heading back toward pre-recession health.

The seven-county region added about 4,000 jobs in June, said the state Department of Labor & Industry, which was the best monthly job increase since November's 4,500.

“It's a very good employment report for Pittsburgh,” said Mark Price, labor economist for Keystone Research Center, Harrisburg. “There's reason to be optimistic about the economy.”

In fact, the rate drop distinguished Pittsburgh as one of only a dozen metro markets in the United States to have unemployment fall last month, out of the 372 metro markets surveyed by the Department of Labor. Metro unemployment rates rose in 347 markets in June and were flat in 13. By comparison, rates fell in 109 metro markets in May, rose in 243 markets and were flat in 20.

The Pittsburgh area's 6.8 percent jobless rate in June, which is based on a survey of residents, equaled the rate in March 2009. The rate was 6.9 percent in May, and 7.2 percent in June 2012.

“A lot of places, including nationally, are not back to where they were prior to the recession,” said Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial Services Group. “We had a mild recession in Pittsburgh and a good recovery.”

The biggest gains in June were the 5,900 jobs added at leisure and hospitality establishments, according to a survey of employers. But those are seasonal jobs that don't pay nearly as well as manufacturing or many other sectors do.

‘With very few exceptions, they tend to pay very low wages and not to offer full-time employment or consistent hours for workers,” Price said. “You don't build a recovery off leisure and hospitality jobs.”

Still, metro Pittsburgh unemployment levels were far better than the state or the nation. The U.S. jobless rate in June was 7.6 percent, and Pennsylvania's was 7.5 percent.

A recession is defined as two consecutive months of decline in the output of goods and services. The Great Recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009.

“Pittsburgh experienced much milder job losses than the rest of the country during the Great Recession, and employment here is higher than it was at the beginning of the recession,” Faucher said.

The Pittsburgh region consists of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

Faucher said it also was encouraging that the number of unemployed in the seven-county region dropped by 700 in June to 86,300 from 87,000 in May. Another sign of at least modest economic improvement was that manufacturers in the area added 900 jobs in June, after adding 800 in May.

“I don't think manufacturing is going to be a huge driver of growth, either locally or nationally,” Faucher said. “But I think we'll see manufacturing holding steady in the near term. Plus, it's a well-paying industry.”

Construction employment grew by 1,700 last month, and mining and logging companies added 200 jobs.

Partly offsetting such gains were drops in education and government employment. The end of the school year meant education jobs fell by 1,100, while state and local government subtracted a total of 2,600 jobs.

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

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