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Pa. unemployment rate falls to lowest since 2008; 12,000 more enter workforce

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Friday, April 18, 2014, 3:57 p.m.
 

More Pennsylvanians entered the job market last month and some of them are getting hired as the state's unemployment rate dropped to the lowest level since October 2008.

The March unemployment rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point to 6 percent, and 12,000 more people entered the workforce, the state Department of Labor & Industry said on Friday.

Nevertheless, the report offers a “mixed bag,” said Mark Price, a labor economist with The Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg.

While there was some monthly improvement, the workforce remains smaller than a year ago and employers have been slow to add jobs.

“We just remain on the relatively stable track,” Price said. “We've seen some job growth. We'd like to see more, but we'll take what we can get.”

Ideally, employers would be adding 8,000 nonfarm jobs a month, Price said. Instead, the state lost 8,400 in March and registered an anemic gain of 0.3 percent from a year ago.

Though more Pennsylvanians began searching for jobs last month, the civilian workforce is 46,000 less than it was a year ago.

Still, Gov. Tom Corbett hailed the report as encouraging for the state.

“When I came to Harrisburg, I came here with the promise of less taxes and more jobs, and we are now seeing those jobs reflected in our state's improving unemployment rate,” Corbett said.

Economists saw little to brag about. There were monthly declines in areas of employment that have been growing until recently — financial activities, professional and business services, education and leisure all shed jobs in March.

“That's really a sad-looking story when so much is down in sectors that have been creating growth,” said Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a Castle Shannon think tank.

Manufacturing is a concern. The manufacturing sector lost 4,100 jobs in the past year, mostly because of a falloff in non-durable goods, such as food, Price said.

Leisure and hospitality jobs declined by 0.5 percent in March, but it remains the strongest area of growth over the past year. The state has added 14,300 leisure and hospitality jobs in the past year, a 2.7 percent increase.

Haulk said the report suggests that leisure may be leveling off.

“I suspect something has happened that has brought some reality to the picture,” he said.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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