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Pa. sees widespread job gains; jobless rate holds at 5.3%

The state’s job market surged back after a rough March, with the biggest monthly job gains in almost two decades as Pennsylvania employers added 27,000 jobs in April, the state Department of Labor & Industry reported Friday.

It was the biggest leap in job growth since February 1996 and broke a three-month streak of increases in the unemployment rate, which held steady at 5.3 percent.

“It’s a blockbuster number,” said Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg.

April’s report showed Pennsylvania’s economy was back on track after losing 13,000 jobs in March. It followed a national pattern in which the U.S. job market added 223,000 workers in April after growth the month before slowed to less than half that pace.

The warmer weather resulted in road and building projects taking off as construction companies added 10,000 jobs last month, leading widespread growth across the state’s economy.

“We’ve seen a little bit of bounce back in April, and the leader here is construction,” said Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

Employment in Pennsylvania’s construction trades was not only up for the month, but substantially more robust than a year ago.

Construction jobs increased 5.6 percent from April 2014, likely because of projects funded though the 2013 state transportation bill that are finally making their way into the pipeline, Gamrat said.

The coming of spring also seemed to inspire rising confidence in job seekers, as more Pennsylvanians started a job search last month. The civilian labor force — the number of people working or looking for work — grew by 19,000 people in April. That resulted in the unemployment rate’s staying steady at 5.3 percent, slightly lower than the U.S. unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

An expanding talent pool may also indicate that employers are competing more aggressively for workers, Price said.

“When the economy recovers and employers start competing for workers, when they struggle to find people easily just by putting up a posting, that’s when they get more creative about recruiting,” Price said. “That’s when you see the labor force rising.”

The job gains were widespread. Education and health employers added 4,800 workers in April and manufacturers showed some positive growth, adding 1,800 workers last month and up 4,400 from a year ago. Just two sectors — mining and logging, and information services — showed monthly declines.

Low oil and gas prices continue to batter the energy industry, leading natural gas drillers to slow production. The mining sector lost 400 jobs last month.

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].


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