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Business

Job outlook dim; regional rate at 7-year peak

| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2003

The region's unemployment rate in December jumped a half-point to a seven-year high of 5.8 percent, as retailers hired fewer holiday workers than last year and colder weather curtailed construction and wholesale activity, a state report showed Monday.

Year-end data also show the six-county Pittsburgh region lost roughly 9,300 jobs in 2002, according to the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis. Average employment here fell to 1,124,600 last year, versus 1,133,900 in 2001.

The 5.8 percent jobless rate also was the highest in this region since November 1995, when unemployment surged to 5.9 percent, said the agency.

"We did see a surge of unemployment across the state," said Michele Hiester, labor market analyst for the state agency. She said a cold snap in much of the state last month had hurt job numbers in certain sectors.

"Pittsburgh was not the only (metropolitan statistical area) that was impacted by the colder weather," she said.

Each month, the state surveys businesses in Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties, as well as the city of Pittsburgh, to determine area employment.

The 5.8 percent unemployment rate compared with 6 percent statewide, as well as nationwide.

Part of the jobs drain here last month came from retailing, which did not add as many clerks as usual. The 205,200 area retail workers last month was some 4,500 fewer than the employment level during December of the 2001 holiday season.

"The retail industry definitely was tempered by disappointing holiday sales figures, which resulted in less than normal seasonal hiring," Hiester said.

Construction jobs dropped by 4,800 last month, which was heavier than seasonally normal. The analyst attributed it to colder weather curtailing project work.

Wholesale jobs fell by roughly 500 in December, which also was more than usual. She said the sector was probably dampened because of slower activity among those companies supplying the construction industry.

Manufacturing employment ticked upward, by 100, to 132,200 jobs, the data show.

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