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Pittsburgh region adds 24,600 jobs; unemployment unchanged

| Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 9:54 a.m.

The Pittsburgh region's job market roared ahead in April, posting the biggest monthly hiring spree in at least 25 years.

The seven-county metropolitan area added 24,600 nonfarm jobs and the unemployment rate remained stable at 5.3 percent as more people began a job search, according to preliminary data the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry reported Tuesday.

It was the largest monthly gain on record since 1990, the earliest data available, and provided a nice boost heading into summer, PNC economist Kurt Rankin said.

“This is about as good a sign as we could get for the state of Pittsburgh's economy,” Rankin said.

Pittsburgh followed a statewide and national trend in which the employment market recovered from a lackluster March, showing broad growth.

The biggest surge was made in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 7,200 jobs. That was followed by expansion in construction, as contractors hired 6,300 workers with the start of spring projects.

Expansion in the leisure industry and retail, which added 2,300 jobs in April, suggests consumers are confident enough in their household finances to spend on entertainment, a good sign for the summer months ahead, said Guhan Venkatu, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland's office in Pittsburgh.

“Some of it is being driven by low gasoline prices, but people may also be feeling somewhat more secure about the recovery,” Venkatu said.

Pittsburgh's hotel industry has been on something of a building boom recently, with 55 projects in the pipeline at the end of 2014, according to a Tribune-Review analysis. New hotel openings have fed job expansion in the leisure industry. Employment in accommodation and food services has increased 3,900 from a year ago.

There are signs that the labor market for hotel workers is tightening. Gabriel Perez said he has struggled to fill new positions at The Hyatt Place Pittsburgh South — Meadows Racetrack & Casino.

The 155-room hotel opened April 30 in Washington. Perez, the hotel's general manager, said he hired 20 employees in April and is looking to add 12 positions, relying on temporary workers while he looks for qualified staff.

Perez said the hotel offers pay above market rates, but he has struggled to find qualified people with access to transportation.

“We are having a very difficult time hiring housekeepers and laundry attendants,” he said. “It has been a challenge to hire.”

Some economists approached the April job growth figures cautiously, noting that they were preliminary numbers that could be substantially revised, as has been the case in previous years.

The state originally reported an increase of 21,100 jobs in April 2014. But that estimate later was revised to 16,200.

“It may be a little premature to be celebrating a rebound in the economy, because these numbers may get wiped out,” said Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

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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