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Region's jobless rate rises to 7.4% as more people look for work

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 10:24 a.m.

The Pittsburgh region added jobs in September but the unemployment rate rose as more people joined the workforce, a report released on Wednesday showed.

The seven-county region's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 7.4 percent in September, up from 7.3 percent in August, the state Department of Labor and Industry said. The rate climbed every month since May, when it was 6.7 percent.

The data, from a survey of households, showed the labor force expanded by 3,900 people to 1.26 million in September from August. At the same time, 3,000 more people became employed.

“We're still creating jobs in Pittsburgh,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group, Downtown. “When more people join the labor force than are finding jobs, the unemployment rate is going to go up.”

A rising labor force is positive because it shows people are searching for jobs, Rankin said. The unemployment rate is “not rising so sharply that it's unsettling,” he said.

Yet the pace of job gains has been slow the past few months. Rankin said that's because businesses are uncertain about the presidential election and the possibility that Congress will raise federal taxes and cut spending.

“Nothing is really changing right now in Pittsburgh, as well as in the rest of the country,” he said.

A separate survey of businesses found the Pittsburgh region — Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties — added 6,700 jobs in September, compared to the month before. Total nonfarm payroll jobs stood at 1.17 millionin September.

Jake Haulk, president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon, pointed to yearly numbers showing a shift in where jobs are created in Western Pennsylvania.

“There's some changing of the guard, in terms of employment,” Haulk said.

Education and health services jobs, a key driver of economic growth in recent years, decreased by 2,100 in September, compared to the same month last year.

Instead, job growth comes in finance, up 4,000 jobs; professional services, up 5,000 jobs; and transportation and warehousing, up 1,400 jobs.

Year over year, total nonfarm jobs were up 11,500.

“The big surprise is in education and health, which are normally always up, but they are not very strong,” Haulk said. It's a “pretty dramatic shift.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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