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Job growth pushes October unemployment rate down to 7.3%

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 10:10 a.m.

The unemployment rate in the seven-county Pittsburgh region fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.3 percent in October from the month before, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The main reason was the region generated 9,300 jobs in October, compared with 6,700 in September, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, based on a survey of employers. Those numbers are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

“That's always the best way to improve the unemployment rate,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group.

Rankin noted that the jobless rate fell even as the size of the labor force — those working or actively seeking work — grew. Many times, the jobless rate goes up because it's measured against a smaller labor force.

The region's labor force expanded by 5,500 last month to about 1.17 million people.

“The labor force seems to be growing at a much stabler and rapid rate than it has in the past,” said Norman Robertson, economic adviser to Smithfield Trust Co., Downtown. “It's up by 26,000 over the past year, and that is a positive sign.”

The jobless rate declined for the first time since March but was left little changed from the 7.2 percent rate posted in October 2011.

In addition, the number of unemployed people in the Pittsburgh area declined to 92,600 in October, from 93,400 in September, according to seasonally adjusted figures from a survey of area residents. The Pittsburgh region includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

“A lot of that had to do with the shopping season, which seems like it's getting started earlier and earlier,” said Rankin.

The employment gains largely came from the addition of a larger-than-expected 2,200 retail workers, as store owners geared up for holiday shopping. In addition, schools and universities added 3,200 jobs in October, as the school year got under way. Local government added 3,700 jobs last month.

The region's manufacturing sector added 400 jobs last month, and construction gained 300 jobs.

Pennsylvania's jobless rate was 8.1 percent last month versus 8.2 percent in September. The nation's unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent.

The economists said the Pittsburgh area weathered the recession better than most markets. To continue growing, the labor market here needs to have the economy grow by at least the 2.2 percent annualized rate posted in the third quarter, said Rankin.

“But I'm hopeful that if fiscal cliff issues are resolved in any way by the end of the year that the pace of growth in the U.S. economy will hold up, as opposed to again slowing and sapping growth from the local market,” he said

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or tolson@tribweb.com.

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