Falling Faster Into the Recession (by Harold D. Miller)

The effects of the recession worsened significantly in the Pittsburgh Region last month. Between February 2008 and February 2009, the region lost 19,200 jobs, more than double the job loss as of January (when regional jobs were down by 9,400).   That's the largest loss of jobs in a single year that the regionBenchmarkRegionsFeb09 has experienced in the past two decades.

Although job losses here are still well below the rate of job loss in the U.S. as a whole and in most other large regions, we had a bigger increase in job losses here than any of our benchmark regions between January and February. Nationally, the only large regions that got worse faster than we did were the Dallas and Virginia Beach metro areas, both of which, like Pittsburgh, had been doing relatively well until recently.

What caused the sudden jump in job losses here? The single biggest factor was manufacturing - we lost over 6,000 manufacturing jobs in the past year, 3,000 of which were lost in the last month. Whereas the Pittsburgh region had been experiencing the smallest loss of manufacturing jobs among our benchmark regions throughout 2008, in February we had a higher rate of loss in manufacturing jobs than 5 of our benchmark regions (Baltimore, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia). Our Professional and Business Services sector, which had been growing jobs through the end of last year, suddenly fell 2,500 jobs into the negative column, although that was still a smaller loss in percentage terms than all but one (Baltimore) of our benchmark regions. And the Leisure and Hospitality sector, which had already lost 4,600 jobs as of January, now has lost 5,300 jobs, making it the second largest contributor to job losses after manufacturing. PghIndustryChangeFeb09

Higher education and health care continued to add jobs in the Pittsburgh Region (despite the recession, there were 4,600 more jobs in those two sectors than a year ago), which helped to offset the job losses in other sectors. But based on recent news reports, job gains will likely slow significantly in those sectors in the months ahead, meaning that overall job losses for the region will increase.

The job losses in Manufacturing and Professional and Business Services are particularly troubling, since those are relatively high wage sectors, and the loss of jobs there will likely have ripple effects in the retail and service sectors in the months ahead.

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