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28,000 jobs lost in Western Pennsylvania over year

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Pittsburgh region lost 28,000 jobs in April compared with the same month a year ago -- another indication that the local economy is being dragged down by the national and global recession, experts said Tuesday.

The decline is the worst year-over-year job loss in the Pittsburgh region in at least two decades -- and might be the worst since the region's steel industry was devastated in the 1980s, said Frank Gamrat, an economist and senior research associate for Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a think-tank in Castle Shannon.

"With the weakened world economy, it's going to hurt here for a while until things turn around on a larger stage," Gamrat said. "This kind of job loss has a ripple effect on the economy."

The seven-county Pittsburgh region had 1,122,900 jobs in April -- the highest number of non-farm jobs this year but far fewer than the 1,150,500 jobs in April 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The figures are not adjusted for seasonal-hiring factors.

The job losses might have been worse if the local economy had not added 7,700 jobs in April compared to March. But even that bright spot has a downside -- the job increase from March to April this year was about half the job growth from March to April 2008.

Economists consider a comparison of the year-over-year jobs totals a better indicator of the health of the economy, Ganmrat said, noting that month-to-month comparisons are affected by seasonal employment factors.

Although the Pittsburgh area has been spared some of the harsher effects suffered by the national economy, "it's hard for that to continue in a national and global recession," said Harold D. Miller, president of Future Strategies LLC, a Downtown consulting firm. With the national economy continuing to lose jobs, he Pittsburgh area has not yet hit the bottom of this recession, he predicts.

"It's likely to get worse here, before it gets better, " Miller said.

The Pittsburgh region has lost so many jobs in this recession that the total number of jobs has fallen below the levels of 1999 for the first time since 2003, Miller said.

What's most worrisome about the economy, Miller said, is the loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs -- about 8,000 compared to April 2008. In the past year, there have been layoffs at such manufacturers as U.S. Steel Corp., Allegheny Technologies Inc. and Sony Corp.

"The loss of those jobs tend to have a bigger effect on the economy," Miller said.

Darryl Whiteside, 55, of Turtle Creek, who lost his job at a supermarket last year, is one of those who found that the job losses are having a big effect on the region's economy. It's been hard to find another job, he said.

If there is any silver lining in the region's year-over-year job loss, "the hardest-hit segments (of the economy) represent the smallest number of jobs," said Antony Davies, an economist and associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, Uptown.

The manufacturing, construction and information-technology sectors employ about 18 percent of the area's work force of 1.13 million. But the strength of the economy -- health care and educational services -- comprise 21 percent of the work force.

"Pittsburgh put its eggs into the basket (educational and health care) that has seen growth in this recession," Davies said.

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