Pittsburgh region unemployment jumps to 5.5% |
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Pittsburgh region unemployment jumps to 5.5%

The Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate shot up to its highest point in nearly two years as employers have been unable to create enough jobs to keep up with a growing pool of applicants.

The unemployment rate for the seven-county metro area in March hit 5.5 percent, up one-half of a percentage point from the month before, according to a survey of households released Tuesday by the state Department of Labor & Industry. The last time the unemployment rate hit 5.5 percent was June 2014, said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

More people reported being unemployed and the competition for available positions grew as 900 people began a job search.

An expanding labor force is a sign of confidence among workers about their chances to find a job. But that confidence could turn to frustration if Pittsburgh companies can’t create enough positions to offer them, Rankin said.

And that could lead to people moving to other cities where jobs are more plentiful, he said.

“There are job opportunities being created across the country,” he said. “We may see those workers leaving the region for opportunities that are being created elsewhere.”

The Pittsburgh region’s job market has barely grown over the past year, with seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs up 0.6 percent compared to 1.4 percent across Pennsylvania and 2 percent nationwide.

A separate survey of employers showed that Pittsburgh-area companies added 7,000 positions to payrolls in March, not seasonally adjusted.

The household and employer surveys can offer conflicting pictures of the job market because of how they are calculated. The household survey is adjusted to smooth out seasonal variations in employment — such as when retailers hire temporary workers over the holidays — while the employer survey is not seasonally adjusted.

Also, they do not reconcile when one person holds two jobs, for example, or when an individual who lives outside the metro area works in Pittsburgh.

Manufacturers and energy companies continued to struggle in March, shedding a combined 1,800 jobs.

The trucking industry has been hit by declines in those sectors, on lower demand for hauling fracking water to gas drilling sites or to transport goods. Contractors ramping up for the spring building season helped make up for some of the losses. But the construction industry alone couldn’t be counted on to prop up the larger job market in the months ahead, said Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.

New-home construction nationwide fell 8.8 percent in March and permits for future home construction declined 7.7 percent, according to Commerce Department data released last week.

“Home building isn’t keeping pace,” Gamrat said. “That’s just not enough to overcome the drops in manufacturing and logging.”

The largest monthly job gains in the Pittsburgh region were in leisure and hospitality, which added 2,500 workers in March.

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].

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