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Western Pa. still not fully recovered from Great Recession

| Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, 12:06 a.m.

Western Pennsylvania's economy has repaired much of the damage from the Great Recession but still has not fully recovered, according to an analysis of county-by-county data.

Unemployment in areas of the seven-county Pittsburgh region last year was higher than when the recession began in 2007, and job growth lagged similar-sized areas across the United States, the National Association of Counties said in a report released Tuesday.

The report highlights how uneven the recovery has been, even though the nation as a whole has regained all of the jobs lost.

“The states — and Pennsylvania is among them — and the counties have certainly made progress in this economic recovery, but certainly, they're not all the way back to health,” said Mark Price, an economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg, who was not involved in the study.

The Association looked at four economic measures — unemployment rate, job growth, economic output and home prices — and found that no county in the region had returned to pre-recession levels on all four. Indeed, the recovery was mixed throughout the nation. Only 214 counties, or 7 percent of those studied, had fully recovered.

The unemployment rate and pace of job creation in Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette and Westmoreland counties had not returned to pre-recession lows.

Allegheny and Washington had recaptured jobs lost, but the unemployment rates were above those in 2007. Unemployment for the entire metro area is 5 percent, up from a pre-recession low of 4.1 percent in March 2007.

Many counties that had fully recovered were in the Midwest and Texas, where a boom in shale oil activity aided a faster recovery. The shale industry provided a post-recession boost to Western Pennsylvania's economy as well, but it remains a small part of overall employment here.

Western Pennsylvania fared better than many places, said Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. Swaths of Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as the Southwest where housing prices tanked during the recession, had not recovered on any of the measures.

Pittsburgh may have room for improvement but was headed in the right direction, Hill said.

“I think in Western Pennsylvania, we're looking much better than we have for some time,” said Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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