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Broad gains in hiring across Pa. in May

| Friday, June 19, 2015, 10:27 a.m.

Pennsylvania employers followed a hiring surge in April by adding 18,200 jobs in May, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry reported Friday, putting the state on pace for its best year of job growth in five years.

The preliminary May hiring numbers brought average monthly gains to 6,280 so far this year. That is the highest it has been since 2010, when job growth averaged 6,808 per month.

“That's an exceptionally healthy job number given normal trends,” said Mark Price, an economist with the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg.

After a slowdown during the harsh winter, the improvement highlights how the state's economy is building momentum that should continue in the months ahead, Price said.

May's hiring boost came after employers added 19,900 jobs in April. That figure was revised down from the 27,000 that was originally reported, but still represented a strong month.

Pennsylvania's unemployment rate rose a tenth of a percentage point to 5.4 percent, but only because more unemployed people began a job search. Pennsylvania's civilian labor force swelled with an additional 25,000 workers from the month before, suggesting more people were feeling confident about their chances of being hired.

That is why the rise in the unemployment rate didn't bother Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

“It looks like there's a nice level of confidence out there in the economy,” he said. “That's why you see the labor force numbers going up. People think, maybe if I go out looking for a job, I've got a chance.”

The job gains were widespread across all sectors with the biggest increase in education and health services, which added 8,900 employees in May.

Manufacturing and mining and logging proved to be exceptions last month. Manufacturers lost 300 workers, and mining and logging companies shed 1,000. The declines reflect the damage that low natural gas prices are having on those sectors. Natural gas companies have curtailed drilling and buying pipes, leading steel manufacturers to idle plants and lay off workers amid the decline in business.

“Right now, you have a lot of these drilling companies just holding back,” Gamrat said. “It's just not worth it to bring (the gas) out of the ground.”

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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