PA Unemployment Numbers Tell Only Half the Story

Mar 12, 2013

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate in January rose to 8.2 percent and is now at its highest point since October 2010 and Democrats in the state are hoping to use the numbers as political fodder.

The numbers were released Friday afternoon. By Monday morning, Senate Democrats were pointing to the report as all the proof they need to show the Corbett administration’s policies have failed to spur investment and, in turn, job creation.

“It’s evident [to] us that the nearly billion dollar of tax breaks we provided over the past couple of years have not resulted in job growth in this commonwealth,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa said to reporters.

But economists – both with the Corbett administration and the left-leaning Keystone Research Center – say the jobs picture is a bit more complicated.

Scott Meckley, an analyst with the state Department of Labor and Industry, said it’s not as if more people are becoming unemployed, despite the increase in the jobless rate.

“The reason that it is rising is partially because people are coming into the labor force – people that weren’t in the labor force before – and they are beginning a job search,” he said.

Democrats point out that even if the labor force is increasing, the rate of job growth is slowing. Mark Price, an economist with the left-leaning Keystone Research Center, makes the same point – that a growing job force alone is “not a sign that everything’s right with the world.”

“It’s a mixed picture,” said Price. “It’s certainly good to see the labor force rising. It’s not so good that there aren’t enough jobs for the people that are entering the market and looking for work.”

Meckley said the number that may be most significant is jobs added, and that has seen a "consistent" increase. Between December 2012 and January 2013, Pennsylvania gained 5,200 jobs. Between January 2012 and January 2013, Pennsylvania gained 36,000 jobs.

Consistent isn’t the word Senate Democrats would use when it comes to jobs gained. 

“The rate of job growth is decelerating here,” said Randy Albright, Executive Director of the Senate Minority Appropriations Committee, noting that the rate of job growth has dropped since the Rendell administration, the last year of which saw a net gain was 82,000 jobs. “Then it fell to 57,000. Now it’s down to less than 40,000 net new jobs last year,” said Albright. “We are going in the wrong direction and the numbers don’t lie.”

Meckley said if Pennsylvania’s job growth hasn’t been “as great as other states,” one factor to consider is the recession in the commonwealth. “We weren’t nearly impacted as severely as several states around us,” he said.

Price made the same point – that Pennsylvania “had a milder recession,” so the unemployment rate never skyrocketed as high as it did in other states, and the pace of job growth has slowed comparatively.

So, if the latest employment picture shows an economy on the mend, what would the report look like if it showed the commonwealth well on the road to recovery?

“We need to create 11,000 jobs a month,” said Price.