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Pittsburgh area job market improves; jobless rate falls to 5.2%

| Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, 12:00 p.m.

The unemployment rate in Western Pennsylvania fell to the lowest level in six years last month as more people were successful in their search for work, but the small improvement suggested the job market remains lethargic.

Employers added 7,400 nonfarm jobs in September, the Department of Labor and Industry said Tuesday. The gains were largely driven by education as classes resumed after the summer break and were in line with mild monthly increases over the past year.

“It's not spectacular, but Pittsburgh hasn't seen much that's spectacular in these monthly labor reports this year,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group.

The seven-county Pittsburgh region is experiencing “very slow, stable growth” but “not anything exciting,” Rankin said. “We're not sure where the near-term growth is going to come from.”

The jobless rate in September was 5.2 percent, down 110th of a percentage point from 5.3 percent in August, the Department of Labor and Industry said in its monthly work force report. The last time the rate was this level was in August 2008.

The drop in the unemployment rate was encouraging because it was reported as more people resumed looking for work and found jobs. Some of the declines in previous months were attributed in part to people giving up their job search and not being counted as unemployed.

The number of people finding work rose by 1,500, according to seasonally adjusted figures from a survey of households. The number of people who reported being unemployed was 64,400 in September, down 1,300. The civilian labor force increased by 200 people to 1,235,900.

A separate survey of employers showed total nonfarm jobs increased, but the growth wasn't broad-based. Service industries added 8,300 jobs while goods producers shed 900 positions, the state said.

“There are a lot of positive numbers, but they're small,” said Frank Gamrat, economist with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, Castle Shannon.

Leading the decline in goods-producing industries was the construction sector, which reported a drop of 1,000 jobs.

Gamrat said he suspects summer construction projects were winding down last month, leading to the decline.

Among service industries, education led the way with an increase of 6,600 jobs, reflecting hiring for the new school year. The gain was offset by a loss of 3,000 positions in health care and social assistance.

Reductions in reimbursements by the government and private insurers have squeezed many hospitals and health systems in Western Pennsylvania, leading to layoffs over the last year.

Over the past 12 months, private employers added 10,000 net jobs across the region for a total of 1,053,600 jobs in September.

Gamrat said the year-over-year gain was a “plodding” pace for private job growth. A healthier increase for the Pittsburgh area would be in the range of 20,000 private-sector jobs a month, he said.

“With a million people employed, 10,000 is a drop in the bucket,” he said.

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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