Economy & Business

Economy & Business news from 90.5 WESA.

The Pittsburgh City Controller's office will examine issues of pay equity among city employees this year.

Controller Michael Lamb said he'll issue a report on compensation rates among similar jobs by year's end, with special attention to disparities concerning gender, race, age, and other factors.

City Council voted on Tuesday to have Lamb conduct the follow-up audit, in order to see what's changed in city pay practices since a similar report was issued by a private company in 2009.

‘Asset Test’ Returns for Pennsylvania Welfare Recipients

May 1, 2012

People renewing their application for food stamps or getting the benefit for the first time in Pennsylvania will have to report certain assets, like their savings accounts and second vehicles.

The asset test once again takes effect Tuesday, about four years after it was abolished under the Rendell administration.

Department of Public Welfare spokeswoman Anne Bale said Pennsylvanians hoping to enroll in the state's food assistance program will need to provide data on their various assets.

Foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2012 increased in 26 of the nation's 50 largest metro areas, and Pittsburgh led the way.

"We saw a 49% quarterly increase in foreclosure activity in Pittsburgh, up to about 2,300 properties with foreclosure filings in the first quarter, up from about 1,500 in the previous quarter," said Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, a firm that watches foreclosure data national.

The large jump is due in large part to foreclosure filings, which start the whole process.

UPMC Health Plan & Rainbow Kitchen Community Services will gather bicyclists and walkers Saturday to raise awareness and a few dollars for hunger. The eighth annual W.A.R.(Walk And Ride) Against Hunger supports a variety of anti-hunger efforts, which Rainbow Kitchen provides to the region.

Through a mixture of corporate sponsorship and individual donations and participation, Rainbow Kitchen is able to help fund programs for low-income families, the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed.

The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board (TRWIB) is holding its 6th annual "Imagine! Career Week," which involves job-related programs for people of all ages in the Pittsburgh region from April 26th to May 4th.

Micah Frankenfield, youth manager for TRWIB, says workshops and programs throughout career week are particularly important for young people.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Veterans and veterans’ advocates gathered Wednesday night to hash out some of the issues facing GI’s as they return from combat zones and try to assimilate back into stateside life. The discussion repeatedly returned to finding and keeping a job.

The jobs just haven’t been there for the last few years, said Pennsylvania Careerlink Mon Valley office Veterans’ Representative John Bittner. But it’s getting better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

When many U.S. military personnel leave the service to return home, they might not have a home to return to or they wind up in the streets eventually.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says there are more than 10,000 homeless veterans nationwide, including those in southwestern Pennsylvania, which has one of the highest veterans per capita rates in the country.

U.S. Secretary Of Labor Talks In Pittsburgh

Apr 17, 2012

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis today joined management and labor officials in the Pittsburgh area for a discussion titled "Industry, Trades & Skills," at the Community College of Allegheny County.

The forum was part of a CCAC discussion series intended to enhance the understanding and recognition of the role labor unions and labor relations have played in shaping western Pennsylvania.

Secretary Solis' keynote address focused on the impact that apprenticeship programs have had on the U.S. economy.

Pennsylvania Ranks 28 for Equal Pay

Apr 17, 2012

With Equal Pay Day upon us, a new study finds not much has changed since the inception of the event in 1996. On average, women in Pennsylvania make 77.4 cents for every dollar men are paid according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. The number was at 73.8 cents in 1996.

"At that rate we are estimating that the pay gap would not close until over 40 years from now," said the partnership's Director of Workplace Fairness Sarah Crawford.

From the Slot Machine to Property Tax Reduction

Apr 16, 2012

Some of the money that Pennsylvanians have been feeding into the slot machines across the commonwealth could be going back into their pockets in the form of property tax relief. State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby announced that $782.5 million collected in gaming revenue statewide will be distributed in 2012 to Pennsylvanians in the form of property tax reductions. That's up from last year's $776.2 million.

The Property Tax Relief Fund was established in 2006 through the Taxpayer Relief Act which served as way to use gaming revenue to reduce property taxes for homeowners.

Group Questions UPMC Nonprofit Status

Apr 15, 2012

The community group Pittsburgh United wants to see UPMC give up its nonprofit status or begin funneling money into what it calls the city's failing tax-based services.

As part of a week-long campaign to shed light on the taxes that could be reaped from the region's largest employers, Pittsburgh United released research into what UPMC would potentially pay back into the community through taxes were it not a non-profit.

After a tour of Giffin Interior and Fixture, Inc. in Bridgeville, Governor Tom Corbett told a group of workers and media that companies like Giffin will continue to thrive under his budget proposal. He's urging lawmakers to pass the $27.14 billion spending plan in its current form.

"It's not an easy budget. Last year was not an easy budget," said Corbett. "It's built the way you in business and you at home have to build your household budget: you can spend no more than you have, and I think that's very important."

The number of homes placed under agreement and the average home sale price in southwestern Pennsylvania showed improvement in March over the same month a year ago. That's according to West Penn Multi-List, Inc., a real estate service company.

In March 2012, the number of homes placed under agreement increased 20% from a year ago, and home prices went up 1.25%.

Employment figures in America rose for the fourth month in a row, with 120,000 jobs added in March, although those numbers are lower than the previous string of 200,000-plus monthly gains.

However, Antony Davies, a labor economist and associate professor of economics at Duquesne University, isn't too optimistic about the recent figures. He said in comparison to population growth, the net job growth for last month was really only 10,000 jobs.

TSA Auction Of Confiscated Items To End Monday

Apr 6, 2012

The state's online auction of items confiscated at airports ends Monday morning.

Pennsylvania is taking bids on items expropriated in airports throughout the mid-Atlantic region, from Ohio to New Jersey.

It's no Sotheby's, but the commonwealth is hoping you'll be interested in all that stuff the Transportation Security Administration agents confiscate at security checkpoints.

Union Contract With AT&T Nears End

Apr 5, 2012

"Put the American back into American Telephone & Telegraph."

That was the message that Mary Lou Schaffer, President of Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 13550, along with about 100 members and supporters, were saying as they protested outside the AT&T building in downtown Pittsburgh this morning.

The existing labor contract for 40,000 employees nationwide, including 250 at Legacy T Core call centers in Pittsburgh, expires at midnight April 7.

Pittsburgh City Council voted Wednesday for a one-week hold on a bill that would set community investment standards for banks that do business with the city government.

Sponsoring Councilman Daniel Lavelle said the delay will allow him time to write in language for a Reinvestment Review Committee. That body of council members, administrative employees and community members would decide which banks to use as city depositories, based on a set of criteria. The city controller would oversee the process.

Corbett’s Privatization Initiative Hits Lottery

Apr 2, 2012

The Corbett Administration is taking steps to privatize the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Pennsylvania Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser said the move is part of an effort to increase profits, which benefit programs for the elderly.

Meuser said, over the last five years, lottery net profits have grown an average of 0.3 percent per year and revenues are projected to grow an average of 1 percent annually through 2014-15. He said that's not enough to cover cost increases.

New Website Aims To Expand Workforce Diversity

Mar 28, 2012

Employers from around the region announced today they will join to create a more diverse workforce within the Pittsburgh region. was formed in February by Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), whose purpose is to increase the awareness of qualified minority job candidates, and to improve access for vendor services and supplier contracts for minority businesses.

Johnson says is all about one thing: opportunity.

Pittsburgh Housing Prices Still On the Rise

Mar 27, 2012

The price of housing in Pittsburgh increased modestly over the course of 2011, bucking a national trend of declining home prices.

The nonprofit PittsburghTODAY studied existing home sales and refinancing activity completed in 2011 to determine that local home prices in southwestern Pennsylvania rose 0.8% over the past year.

That's especially good news when compared with 14 other urban areas across the country, said PittsburghTODAY program director Doug Heuck.

Feds, State Go After Unemployment Fraud

Mar 26, 2012

Over $50 million was wrongfully paid out to 9,400 individuals claiming unemployment compensation, and the state's Department of Labor and Industry and federal Department of Treasury are intercepting.

The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) allows the departments to seize the federal income tax refunds of those who claimed unemployment compensation (UC), but did not qualify.

Julia Hearthway, Secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry, says they sent letters to the individuals wrongfully claiming UC in November.

Pittsburgh Tourism Remains Strong, Continues to Grow

Mar 21, 2012

2011 was a strong year for the tourism industry in Pittsburgh, according to VisitPittsburgh, which hosted its annual meeting Wednesday. Industry leaders said the area continues to be a big draw for visitors from around the country and the world.

"We ended last year with 68.2% occupancy, and that compares against a national average of 60%, we did better than Washington, D.C., Chicago, Illinois and even Orlando, Florida," said Craig Davis, the newly-named president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh.

Lt. Governor Touts Marcellus Jobs Potential

Mar 19, 2012

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley toured the U.S. Steel Irvin Plant in West Mifflin on Monday to talk about the jobs created by the Marcellus Shale industry.

The lieutenant governor spoke to a crowd of roughly 60 steelworkers, flanked by officials of U.S. Steel and other companies who've grown as the state's natural gas sector expands.

"If you're going to drill for gas, you're going to need steel," said Cawley. "Steel for drilling rigs; steel for platforms; steel for pipelines. Clearly, this is a great opportunity for Pennsylvania."

Mr. Corbett Goes to Dusseldorf

Mar 19, 2012

Governor Tom Corbett is in Europe this week to promote Pennsylvania business and tourism.

The governor is scheduled to visit Paris and Lyon in France, as well as Stuttgart and Dusseldorf in Germany. Corbett will meet with Pennsylvania businesses that have overseas branches, and speak with hundreds of potential foreign investors. He'll also tour various facilities in both countries.

Political science professor Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College said a trip like this is business as usual for governors across the country.

Cracking Down On Food Stamp Traffickers

Mar 19, 2012

Pennsylvania Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner testified before a congressional panel that the state is trying to end fraud in the welfare system and protect the integrity of the food stamp program.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is examining fraud within the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.

Beaver County Residents Respond to Ethane Cracker News

Mar 16, 2012

Several residents of Beaver County heard yesterday for the first time about Shell's decision to locate a new ethane cracker in Monaca where Horsehead has been manufacturing zinc.

Mary Ann Musloe, a Monaca resident, said there haven't been enough jobs since the steel mills closed, and Horsehead had given notice that they were going to move south for better economic incentives. The county and state, she said, need to do more to keep companies here.

Beaver County Site Chosen for Shell Cracker Plant

Mar 15, 2012

Southwestern Pennsylvania is set to gain a major economic boost from the construction of a new petrochemical refinery. Shell Oil Co. will announce today that a site near Monaca has been chosen for the multi-million-dollar ethane cracker. Dan Carlson, Shell's General Manager of New Business Development, said today that the company has signed a land option agreement with Horsehead Corp. to evaluate the site.

Charlie Sheen is not the only one "winning." The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance (PRA) announced Wednesday that the 10 counties in the region reported almost 300 economic development deals, or "wins" last year. That is up 14 from 2010.

David Malone, President and CEO of Gateway Financial and Chairman of the PRA says the "wins" were landed in large part due to the region's diverse economy.

Study Shows School Bus Privatization Too Costly

Mar 13, 2012

The key argument for privatization of any government-controlled operation is that it saves money. However, that argument may not hold much actual merit, at least when it comes to public school busing.

According to a new study released Tuesday by the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania school districts end up spending more tax dollars on transportation than districts that manage their own bus fleets.

The new federal panel to investigate unfair international trade practices should have teeth, according to the AFL-CIO.

The nation's largest group of labor unions said the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC) should be adequately funded and wield subpoena powers.

AFL-CIO Trade Policy Specialist Celeste Drake said the creation of the agency is a step in the right direction. She said it would investigate international incidents of price-fixing, illegal subsidies, and unlawful favors to attract specific businesses.