The Recession Starts to Arrive in Pittsburgh (by Harold D. Miller)

The preliminary May jobs figures for the Pittsburgh Region show that the slow U.S. economy is starting to affect our region.  The bad news is that our rate of job growth has slowed dramatically; the good news is that we're still creating jobs, whereas many other regions are actually losing jobs.

As of May, 2008, there were 3,200 more jobs in the Pittsburgh Region compared to a year ago (May, 2007).   In the earlier part of the year (January through April) we were up between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs each month.  Our rate of job growth (0.28%) was only half or less what it has been for the past year, so that's a very significant slowdown.

However, we're not alone in experiencing a slowdown; the U.S. job growth rate is only 1/10 of what it was at the end of 2007, and all but 3 of the top 40 regions have experienced reductions in their job growth rate.   Pittsburgh's job growth, although lower than it has been, was three times higher than the U.S. job growth rate (0.28% vs. 0.08%) in May.

Most striking, though is the fact that 14 of the top 40 regions have fewer jobs today than they did a year ago.  It's not just places like Cleveland and Detroit, which have been losing jobs for the past two years;  San Diego, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, and Tampa all lost jobs over the past year.  The Pittsburgh Region had the 23rd highest job growth rate among the top 40 regions in May, higher than Orlando, Chicago, and Cincinnati, as well the regions that lost jobs.

Why are we doing so well?  One out of every 5 jobs in our region is in health care or higher education, and those are reasonably recession-resistant industries.  (By way of comparison, only one out of every 14 jobs in Las Vegas is in health care or higher education.)  And while we're continuing to lose manufacturing jobs, we're holding on to them better than many other regions are -- we lost 1.3% of our manufacturing jobs over the past year, while the U.S. as a whole lost 2.5% of its manufacturing jobs, i.e., almost twice as many.

The next few months will likely be critical.  If the U.S. economy recovers, Pittsburgh's recesssion-resistance may enable it to ride out the dip without actually losing jobs.  If the U.S. economy worsens, then we may well start to lose jobs, too, as more and more sectors are affected more and more severely by economic woes.

(The May job numbers will be posted on PittsburghToday next week.)

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