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Pittsburgh region's unemployment rate stays steady

| Tuesday, March 31, 2015, 9:27 a.m.

The Pittsburgh region's jobs market was sluggish in February as low energy prices sapped the energy once provided by the natural gas industry.

Employers in the seven-county Pittsburgh region added 1,000 nonfarm jobs, not seasonally adjusted, in February, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.2 percent, according to preliminary figures released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry.

Pittsburgh's jobs market has lagged the brisk pickup that the rest of the nation has experienced and will likely stay flat until a rise in gas prices causes the shale industry to start drilling again, said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services.

“That's really the only industry that Pittsburgh can look to in terms of how can Pittsburgh become a better-than-average, growing economy in the near-term sense,” Rankin said.

The shale boom in Western Pennsylvania helped drive Pittsburgh's early recovery after the recession. But increased production and low demand have driven a glut of oil and gas that has pushed prices of both commodities to multiyear lows. Drillers have responded by paring capital spending and hiring, hurting steel makers and other companies that serve the industry.

Overall, goods-producing industries — manufacturing, construction and mining and logging — lost 3,500 jobs in February. The loss of those high-paying jobs appears to be trickling down to restaurants and entertainment, Rankin said. The leisure and hospitality sector shed 1,100 workers for the month.

Other industries that have been strong throughout the recovery are weakening. Professional and business services added 600 jobs in February, but were flat from a year ago. Financial services lost 500 jobs in February and 2,700 over the past year.

“That's a concern that you're losing financial jobs,” said Jake Haulk, president and economist at Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. “You've got a job mix that's not very good in terms of income growth.”

Pittsburgh's unemployment rate is the same as the rest of Pennsylvania and below the national rate for February of 5.5 percent. The national jobs report for March is scheduled for release Friday.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or cfleisher@tribweb.com.

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