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School break puts dent in job numbers for region

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

The Pittsburgh region shed 7,900 jobs in July, mostly because schools and bus drivers went on summer break, according to a state report released Tuesday.

The decline in jobs sent the unemployment rate up to 7.4 percent last month, compared with 7.1 percent in June, the state Department of Labor and Industry said.

“The unemployment rate rising three-tenths of a percentage point was driven by more people being out of work,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

The 92,900 jobless people in July marked an increase of 3,400 from June's 89,500 unemployed in the region.

In addition, Rankin noted there was a 7,700-person jump in the labor force — which consists of people holding a job or actively looking for one. But only 4,300 of them found work, according to agency data, pushing the jobless rate higher.

The unemployment rate is determined by a survey of residents in the Pittsburgh region, defined as Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties.

The region's 7.4 percent jobless rate for July compared with 7.9 percent for Pennsylvania and 8.3 percent nationally.

“This is really about school letting out. No more teachers, administrators, school bus drivers or lunch ladies,” said Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy in Castle Shannon.

The drop of 9,800 workers tied to local public schools, however, will “turn back around with September,” when schools are back in session, he said.

Jobs data by industry sector, which is derived from a survey of employers, is not adjusted for seasonal factors, such as school years or holiday shopping.

Construction jobs increased by 1,500 over June levels, a normal pattern for July.

“Construction (employment), it's nice to see, continues to rise,” Rankin said. “Construction jobs are well-paying, which bodes well for the economy.”

But employment in food services and drinking establishments fell by 1,800 in July, a warm-weather month that traditionally tends to add jobs.

“Higher gasoline prices probably had an impact here. Maybe people weren't going out as much and spending money,” Rankin said.

In addition, warehouse and transportation jobs slid by 1,000, and employment in health care and social assistance decreased by 1,300.

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

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