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Joblessness nears 17-year high in region

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The drumbeat of bad economic news for the Pittsburgh region continued in May with the unemployment rate rising to the highest level in nearly 17 years, the state said Tuesday.

May's unemployment rate rose to 7.5 percent, the highest since July 1992, when it was 7.4 percent, the state said.

The rate was 0.2 percentage point higher than April, and 2.6 percentage points higher than a year ago, when it was 4.9 percent.

"The jobs data appears to be pointing to a deepening recession in the spring months. It's an economy that has some problems. I don't know when this going to pick up," said Jake Haulk, an economist and president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a think tank in Castle Shannon.

The ranks of the unemployed in the Pittsburgh region swelled by about 6,700 more workers in May, increasing to 89,800.

That was nearly 33,000 more people unemployed than in May 2008, when there were 56,900 on the jobless rolls, the state's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis said.

More people were looking for work last month as the civilian labor force increased by 6,600 to 1.229 million. The civilian labor force includes the employed and people looking for work.

Employment among residents in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties rose to 1.137 million, up 3,300 from April, but far less than the May 2008 level of 1.160 million.

The region's May jobless rate was below Pennsylvania's rate of 8.2 percent and the national jobless rate of 9.4 percent.

More unemployed workers has resulted in more people using PA CareerLink centers in the region to find jobs, state officials said, although not all of the job seekers are unemployed.

"We've seen an increase in activity in the past few months. We're seeing about 400 to 500 people a week, and that's about 10 to 12 percent more than this time last year," said Anthony Gebicki, site administrator for the PA CareerLink office in Youngwood.

James Hann, site administrator at the PA CareerLink office in Forest Hills, said that office has noticed a steady increase in job seekers, so much so that sometimes people are waiting in lines to get onto a computer to conduct a job search.

Despite the lingering recession, Gebicki said the CareerLink still is getting requests from employers seeking to fill jobs. The center has about 225 job orders this week, an increase from this spring, but far below the 400 job orders it was receiving a year ago, Gebicki said.

The number of nonfarm jobs actually increased in May to 1,129,000, up 6,700 from April, but the region is down 33,600 jobs compared to May 2008.

The jobs report showed that manufacturing employment in May dropped to 89,800, down 900 jobs from April, and 9,200 fewer jobs than in May 2008.

"Manufacturing is taking a wallop. The loss of high-paying jobs, you can't ignore it," said Haulk, adding that it is not likely to get better until the national and world economies improve.

One of the bright spots in the economy in May was service-providing companies, which added 5,200 jobs from April, with leisure and hospitality gearing up for the tourism season by adding 6,000 jobs. But Haulk pointed out that leisure and hospitality is down 7,100 jobs compared to May 2008.



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