Two Steps Forward, Then One Step Back (by Harold D. Miller)

Statistics on jobs in May throw a bit of cold water on hopes that a strong economic recovery is underway in the Pittsburgh Region. After two straight months of improvement in March and April, including #1-in-the-nation growth in April, job creation in the Pittsburgh Region retreated in May.

The fact that May represented bad economic news for the region won’t be immediately obvious from the way the state releases job information or the way that the news media typically report statistics. What you’ll likely hear trumpeted is the fact that there were 10,000 more jobs in the region in May than there were in April. However, there are always about that many more jobs in May than in April, due to seasonal factors, particularly hiring in the construction and leisure and hospitality sectors. Even last year, in the depths of the recession, the Pittsburgh region added 9,000 jobs in May.

So even though the Pittsburgh region added 10,000 jobs this year between April and May, compared to pre-recession job levels, the region was actually worse off in May than in April. In March 2010, our region had 35,600 fewer jobs (3.1%) than in March 2008; in April 2010, we had 32,200 fewer jobs (2.8%) than in April 2008; but in May 2010, we fell back to having 33,800 fewer jobs (2.9%) than in May 2008.

PrivateSectorJobsinPghvsUS You might think this was just a minor setback until you learn that over 25% of the jobs added in May were 2,800 temporary Federal jobs with the Census. In fact, the last time the region saw a large increase in Federal jobs in the spring was in May, 2000, i.e., during the last Census. If you take out government jobs and just look at private sector jobs, 2010 had the smallest increase in private sector jobs between April and May since 2001, and the fifth smallest May job growth in the last 20 years. In percentage terms, we’re further behind 2008 than we were in January.

Why compare jobs in 2010 to 2008 rather than 2009? Because what we really want to know is the extent to which we’ve recovered the jobs we lost during the recession (which started in 2008), not just whether we’re doing better than we were in the depths of the recession (in 2009). If you compare the 12 month change in jobs in May vs. April, it looks like we’re doing better – in May 2010, we had 0.7% fewer private sector jobs than in May 2009, compared to 1.4% fewer private sector jobs in March 2010 vs. March 2009. But that doesn’t mean job growth was twice as high in May as in March; most of that difference is due to the fact that we were losing jobs between March 2008 and May 2010, i.e., the denominator decreased, rather than the numerator improving. You can always make yourself look better if you compare yourself to a point when you were doing particularly badly.

So how does Pittsburgh’s weak performance in May compare to other regions? In April, we were #1 in the country in month-to-month job growth. In May, we were only 10th among our benchmark regions. We weren’t alone in dropping; many regions with high rates of job growth in April relative to their peers slowed down considerably in May, and many of those with low job growth rates in April improved considerably. In part, this demonstrates that month-to-month changes can be highly volatile and very dependent on local conditions.

PrivateSectorBenchmarkJanMay2010 If one looks over a multi-month period, Pittsburgh is doing above average among other regions. Between January and May, total jobs in the Pittsburgh Region increased by 3.35%, the fourth highest growth among our benchmark regions, and private sector jobs in the Pittsburgh Region increased by 3.1%, the fifth highest growth among our benchmark regions.

The Pittsburgh Region has outperformed our benchmark regions in about half of the major subsectors of the economy so far this year. Our region has underperformed our benchmark peers in manufacturing, the information sector (which consists of businesses such as newspapers, television and radio stations, internet providers, etc.), education and health services, financial services, and “other services.”

PghvsAvgBenchmarkJanMay2010 The biggest gap in terms of absolute numbers of jobs is in education and health services. Jobs in these sectors increased by only 0.2% (one-fifth of one percent) in the Pittsburgh Region between January and May, whereas they grew by an average of 1.8% -- 9 times as fast – in our benchmark regions. If these sectors had grown here at the average rate they grew in other regions, we would have had over 3,000 more jobs here in May than we actually did.

This gap is a combination of two things. First, job growth in the health care sector here was modest compared to other regions – an 0.8% increase in jobs, compared to job growth that was more than twice as large in regions as diverse as Cincinnati and Denver. Second, the Pittsburgh Region actually lost jobs in the private education sector between January and May, one of only a few regions in the country to do so. This included a loss of 1800 jobs in colleges, universities, and professional schools.

These gaps help to make clear that some of the economic characteristics that helped the region lose fewer jobs during the recession could actually slow its recovery. The health care sector was the only sector that consistently added significant numbers of jobs nationally during the recession, and because so many of our region’s jobs are in health care, that “recession-proof” quality meant that we lost a smaller proportion of our total jobs than other regions. However, growth in the national economy after the recession does not automatically translate into larger growth in healthcare, particularly in a region that is not adding new residents.

Significant job creation in the post-recession economy is more likely to occur through growth in other sectors, particularly manufacturing. Consequently, supporting the manufacturing sector should remain a top priority for the region and the state if we are to going to recover all of the jobs we lost during the recession and add net new jobs to attract new residents.

Pittsburgh Region: #1 in U.S. in Job Growth in April (by Harold D. Miller)

PrivateJobsBenchmarkMar-Apr2010 The Pittsburgh Region just achieved a new #1 national ranking: it had the largest percentage growth in private sector jobs of any large region in the country in April. The region added 17,800 total jobs, including 16,700 jobs in the private sector, between March and April. That’s a 1.6% increase, higher than any of our benchmark regions, higher than any of the 40 largest regions in the country, higher than the state as a whole, and nearly twice as high as the nation.

Seasonal hiring in the spring means that jobs always increase from March to April; even in the midst of last year’s recession, there were more jobs in the Pittsburgh Region and the U.S. in April than in March. What is significant this year was how big the March-April increase was –more jobs were added in the Pittsburgh Region in April, both in absolute and percentage terms, than in any April in the past 15 years. Seasonal changes alone would have resulted in over 7,000 fewer jobs than we actually had.

PghbyIndustryMar-Apr2010 Where did these jobs come from? The leading job creator by far was the construction industry, which had 5,600 more workers in April than in March. Construction jobs typically increase in the spring, but that has not been a foregone conclusion by any means this year. What is remarkable is that construction jobs increased here by 12% in April, a bigger increase than any region where construction jobs are measured separately, and triple the growth rate nationally in construction. Part of this is likely due to stimulus spending, but some of it is also likely due to a housing market that didn’t crash here the way it did in most other regions.

The second biggest job creator was the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 4,300 jobs in April. This, however, was just a normal seasonal change – the leisure and hospitality sector adds about 4,000 jobs every April.

The third biggest contributor was professional and business services, which added 3,700 jobs in April. This was an above average increase in this sector, but most of the increase came from the “administrative and support services” subsector, which includes a wide range of jobs, from telemarketing to janitorial services and landscaping to temporary employment. Detailed data aren’t available for Pittsburgh, but national data suggest that the biggest sources of hiring have been in building-related services such as janitorial and landscaping services.

The primary explanation for our unusually high growth compared to other regions was simply that almost every economic sector in the region added jobs. Only two major sectors lost jobs in March – financial services and transportation and warehousing.

ManufBenchmarkMar-Apr2010 Even our manufacturing sector added 100 jobs, the second month in nearly two years that it has added, instead of cutting, jobs. Compared to our benchmark regions, our manufacturing performance was below average; 9 of of our benchmark regions had bigger percentage increases in manufacturing jobs than we did, but we did better than the 4 regions which lost manufacturing jobs between March and April.

Does the large growth in April mean the region is finally on its way out of the recession? It’s still too early to say for sure, but April represented the first time in two years that the region has seen two consecutive months of job growth above seasonal norms. Two months does not make much of a trend, but it’s certainly better than we’ve seen so far.

JobsinPghApril2010 However, it’s important to recognize that the jobs created in April, while large in historical terms and large relative to other regions, added back only a small portion of the jobs that were lost during the recession. The Pittsburgh Region still has 32,500 fewer jobs than it did two years ago, and 7,000 fewer jobs than it did over a decade ago in 1999. We’ll need many more Aprils before every worker who lost their job over the past two years can find stable employment here again.

An Idling Economy (by Harold D. Miller)

New data on the number of jobs in March suggest that the Pittsburgh Region’s economy is still traveling in the slow lane, while some other regions have started to accelerate on the road to recovery. After a significant dip from January to February, jobs increased here in March by almost 10,000, but that’s not really good news, because jobs always increase in March due to seasonal factors. Although 10,000 jobs is a lot, that was fairly typical of the seasonal increase in jobs we experience in most years between February and March. And experiencing a typical seasonal change means that there is little sign of a strong recovery pushing through.

PghvsUSJobs24MoMar2010 In fact, for five straight months, the number of jobs here has been consistently between 34,000 and 37,000 lower than in the same month two years earlier (before the effects of the national recession began to kick in). It now seems clear that the small bit of non-seasonal job growth that appeared in a couple of those months was more likely random variation than any true indication that a significant recovery was getting underway, since the job gains one month disappeared the following month. Similarly, the job losses in other months, such as February, also seem to be just temporary fluctuations.

ChginPrivSectBenchmarkJan-Mar2010 Compared to our benchmark regions our performance over the past few months has been about average. The country as a whole is also still idling in terms of job creation. We’re doing a little worse than average on private sector jobs, however – our economy is being disproportionately supported by growth in government jobs. A number of major regions have started to see more significant acceleration in private sector job creation than we have.

ChginAllJobsBenchmarkMar2008-2010 Although our overall 34,000-37,000 job loss isn’t improving the way we’d like, it’s still the envy of most other major regions. In percentage terms, we’re 3.1% below where we were 2 years ago, while all of our benchmark regions lost a bigger share of their jobs during that period. So even if other regions start growing significantly faster than we do, it will take them a long time just to get back to the lower level of losses that we’ve experienced.

PghbyIndustryJan-Mar2010 Nonetheless, we have to be concerned about how to get job creation underway here if we’re going to reduce the unemployment rate, which was almost 10% in February. Some of our industry sectors are doing better than other regions, while others are doing worse. For example, we had over 2,000 more construction jobs here in March than in January, the largest increase of any region that reports construction jobs separately. Conversely, our region actually lost jobs in the healthcare and social assistance sector between January and March; only 3 of our benchmark regions lost job in this sector. Although the loss was relatively small (100 jobs), other regions added hundreds or even thousands of jobs in healthcare over the past few months, which has helped offset losses they’ve experienced in other sectors. What was at one point our only growing sector has now also fallen into the loss side of the ledger.

PghbyIndustryMar2008-2010 Our biggest focus needs to be on manufacturing, since over the past two years, our region has lost twice as many manufacturing jobs as in any other sector, and 40% of all the jobs we lost in the past two years were in the manufacturing sector. Moreover, the loss of high wage jobs in manufacturing has likely contributed to job losses and slow recovery in other sectors. Here, March brought a little good news – after 20 straight months of job losses in manufacturing, the preliminary data indicate that we added 200 manufacturing jobs between January and March, while 5 of our benchmark regions lost manufacturing jobs during that period. However, that 200 jobs is only 1% of the 13,900 manufacturing jobs we’ve lost in the past two years, so we have a long way to go to rebuild our manufacturing base.

Potholes on the Road to Economic Recovery (by Harold D. Miller)

Like Pittsburgh drivers dodging potholes on their way to work, occasionally hitting one that causes some damage, the Pittsburgh Region’s economy hit a pretty big pothole last month on its road to economic recovery.

PrivSectBenchmarkRegJanFeb2010 The region lost 5,200 private sector jobs between January and February, which is the second biggest private sector job loss between those two months in the past two decades. The job loss was so big that it gave Pittsburgh the third worst private sector job performance in the past month among our benchmark regions, losing jobs when five benchmark regions (Charlotte, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and St. Louis) and the U.S. as a whole actually added net new jobs.

Total jobs in the region declined, but not quite as badly, however, because of the addition of nearly 3,000 government jobs in February, two-thirds of which were state government jobs (which includes state universities). Some of this is likely a result of the federal stimulus spending, although the Pittsburgh Region saw the second highest increase in state government employment among our benchmark regions (only Cleveland had a bigger increase).

Combining both private and public sector jobs, the region had 2,300 fewer jobs in February than in January, making Pittsburgh one of only 5 regions among our benchmark regions that had a net loss in total non-farm jobs between the two months. Moreover, revised figures for January show that we lost 700 more jobs that month than the preliminary data released a couple of weeks ago had indicated.

Although it had appeared that regional job losses had peaked in December at 36,700, February now holds the record – we had 38,800 fewer jobs in February 2010 than two years earlier (February 2008), just before the national recession hit. The loss of jobs was so big that it wiped out more than a decade of job growth here – the region now has 10,000 fewer jobs than it did in February 1999.

PghRegionbyIndustryJan-Feb2010 What caused the big job loss here in February? Although the biggest contributor was the loss of 2,700 retail jobs, that’s a typical seasonal change between January and February. What was far from typical was the loss of 900 jobs in the health care and social services sector, one of the few times in the past 20 years that health care jobs haven’t increased and one of the largest monthly losses during that period. An even bigger negative was the leisure and hospitality sector, which lost 1,300 jobs, the largest January-February job loss in two decades, and the third-largest decrease among our benchmark regions.

At the other end of the spectrum, higher education was the only non-governmental sector that added jobs. Although the number was large – 2,300 jobs – that’s a pretty typical seasonal change for February, and the increase was below average compared to other regions around the country.

The total number of manufacturing jobs in the region didn’t increase or decline in February, but that’s actually pretty good news after 19 consecutive months of job losses. Some manufacturing subsectors grew slightly, but others declined.

PghvsUSJobs24MoFeb2010 So unfortunately, despite hopes that the Pittsburgh Region was finally on the road to economic recovery, the road is pretty rough and at the moment, we’re losing ground rather than making progress. We’re still better off than many other regions – although 38,800 jobs lost is a lot, it represents 3.4% of the jobs that were here two years ago, and that’s the smallest loss among our benchmark regions. But unless we start to see more private sector job creation here soon, the regions that have begun growing again will keep narrowing that gap and ultimately leave us behind, as they have in the past.

Diabetes Rates in Region Still High (by Tanya Kenkre and Bernard Goldstein)

The Pittsburgh MSA continues to have relatively high rates of diabetes as compared to benchmark areas, and our black community is particularly affected.  The newly available 2008 data from the Centers for Disease Control report an overall adult diabetes rate of 8.9% in 2008 as compared to 8.4% in 2007.  While we are just about at the US average of 8.8% adult diabetics, we once again rank poorly among comparison cities who average 8.1%.  Since 2003 Pittsburgh has had the 9th through 15th worst level of diabetes among the benchmark cities, ranking 11th in 2008.  Black residents of our area are particularly affected by diabetes with a reported rate of 16.4%.  Since 2003 African-Americans in the Pittsburgh region have consistently ranked worst or next to worst among the 15 benchmark areas.   In relation to gender, Pittsburgh men do more poorly than Pittsburgh area women.  For men there is an 11.0% overall rate of diabetes – only Detroit being higher.   Our women are at 7.1%, which for the first time since 2003 puts us better off than the benchmark average.  It will be important to see if this trend for women continues. 

 

The Pittsburgh Indicator health data are highly consistent with our medical understanding of the causes and adverse outcomes of diabetes, the cause mostly being obesity and the outcomes including death due to cardiovascular disease.   If you look at our “Overweight and Obesity” data the evidence is clear that we are “Fat City” – and checking the data under “Heart Attack Death Rates  shows that we are among the leaders in dying from heart attacks.   This is a long time problem in our area that will not get better until we get our food intake under control. 

Thirty Years Later, the Steel Industry Still Has a Major Impact on Our Economy (by Harold D. Miller)

Revised data issued last week on the number of jobs in the region reveal that the recession hit the Pittsburgh Region somewhat harder than originally thought. Instead of a peak job loss from December 2007 to December 2009 of 33,600, the number was actually almost 10% higher – 36,700. The health care sector added fewer jobs than earlier estimates indicated, while higher education added more, but it remained the case that those two sectors were the only major job generators during the year. Professional and business services lost significantly more jobs than originally believed as did both construction and manufacturing. Leisure and hospitality lost significantly fewer jobs than earlier data indicated, as did the financial sector. PghRegionbyIndustry2007-2009

One thing that didn’t change was the fact that the biggest loss of jobs by far occurred in the manufacturing sector. Nearly half (46%) of the jobs lost here between 2007 and 2009 were in the manufacturing sector. In fact, manufacturing represented a bigger share of private sector job losses in the Pittsburgh Region than any major region in the country other than Austin, Texas.

Why have we lost so many manufacturing jobs? A key reason is the kind of manufacturing jobs we have in the region. Although many people believe that the steel industry is “gone,” the fact is that the steel industry is still a major part of the region’s economy. In 2007, over 14,000 jobs in the Pittsburgh Region were in primary metals manufacturing, which includes steel mills and steel manufacturing. That’s one of out every seven manufacturing jobs (14%), the highest percentage of any major region in the country.

An even larger number of manufacturing jobs in Pittsburgh have been in fabricated metal manufacturing – 16,000 jobs in 2007, or nearly 16% of all manufacturing jobs in the region. Another 11,400 jobs in 2007 were in machinery manufacturing. And finally, another 7,000 jobs were in “nonmetallic mineral product manufacturing,” which includes glass, bricks, and cement. The Pittsburgh Region has a higher concentration of its manufacturing jobs in each of these sectors than most regions in the country. TypeofManufJobsBenchmarkRegions

These four sectors, totaling nearly 50,000 jobs, represented almost half of all of the manufacturing jobs in the region in 2007. In fact, Pittsburgh has the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in these sectors of any large region in the country. But nationally, most of these sectors suffered more than others during the recession.

The Pittsburgh Region lost one-seventh of its jobs in these four sectors between 2007 and 2009, a total of 7,000 jobs, representing more than half of the region’s manufacturing job losses and more than a quarter of all the jobs lost in the Pittsburgh Region during the recession. How these four sectors fare during 2010 will have a major impact on the speed of recovery for the region as a whole.

Is there any good news on the horizon? Preliminary data for January indicate that jobs are finally starting to increase again in most industries. Although there were nearly 28,000 fewer jobs in the region in January than in December, that’s a seasonal phenomenon. There are significantly fewer jobs in January than December every year, even when the economy is growing. The good news is that the decrease from December to January this year was smaller than in prior years, which means that jobs are beginning to be added. Every industry sector improved or was stable with four exceptions: construction, manufacturing, utilities, and transportation and warehousing. Pittsburgh’s improvement was about average among major regions, but any improvement is a good way to start 2010 after the continuous stream of bad economic news throughout 2009.

Not Out of the Woods Yet (by Harold D. Miller)

The preliminary jobs figures for December show that while the Pittsburgh Region is still doing better than most major regions in the country, the recession continues to have a downward pull on the local economy. The region had fewer jobs in December 2009 than it did in December 1998, the first time that the region has ever fallen below 1998 levels.

Nov-DecChanges There were 5,200 fewer jobs here in December than November, but over half of that decrease is a typical seasonal change – over the past 20 years, jobs have almost always decreased between November and December. What is significant is that the job loss this year was the fourth highest during those 20 years, exceeded only by the drops during the recession years of 2008, 2002, and 1992.

Until recently, a simple way of controlling for these kinds of seasonal effects from one month to the next was to compare the change in jobs over a 12 month period, i.e., by comparing December 2009 to December 2008, rather than to November 2009. However, that is no longer a good way to measure how much the recession is impacting our region, because 12 months ago, we were already losing jobs due to the recession. A better measure now is the 24-month job change between 2007 and 2009, since 2007 was the last year when the U.S. and regional economies were stable or growing through the whole year. The 24-month measure confirms that job losses worsened slightly in Pittsburgh between November and December. Jobs were down 2.9% (33,600) from December 2007 to December 2009, whereas they were only down 2.7% (31,400) from November 2007 to November 2009.

BenchmarkRegionsDec09 The bottom line is that the persistence of the recession cost us 2,200 jobs in December. Although this is bad news for local workers and job-seekers, things were worse in most other parts of the country. Our 24-month job loss between December 2007 and December 2009 was the 2nd smallest among our benchmark regions, and even though jobs declined here between November and December, the declines were even bigger in 11 of our 14 benchmark regions. For example, Milwaukee lost a whopping 10,000 jobs between November and December, five times as many as we did; they’ve lost a total of 70,000 jobs over the past two years, wiping out of all of the job gains they’ve made since 1993.

Nov-DecSectors Which industries caused things to get worse here between November and December? The good news is that it wasn’t manufacturing. Although our manufacturing sector has lost over 12,000 jobs in the past two years, manufacturing jobs held steady between November and December. The biggest contributor to job losses was government, with significant reductions in federal, state, and local government jobs, followed by job losses in the professional and business services sector and the leisure and hospitality sector. Construction job losses decreased by 1,400 between November and December, offsetting some of the losses in other sectors.

It’s important to realize that these numbers are preliminary; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will revise all of the 2009 figures this spring, which will give us a more accurate picture of where we stand. However, it’s likely that the basic conclusion won’t have changed – we’ve lost a lot of jobs, but we’ve lost fewer than most regions – nor will the prescription for action: we need to continue working to support our local businesses to help them preserve and create as many jobs as possible.

Venture capital needs strong local flavor (by Matt Harbaugh)

This comes in response to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal reporting on the concentration of Venture Capital deals going to the Silicon Valley, bypassing other parts of the country.   In times of increased risk aversion (such as the past year), one of the ways VCs will try to reduce their risk is by choosing investments that are closer to home – especially for the earliest-stage startups, which will likely require more oversight by the VCs.  Perhaps more importantly, the WSJ article notes that Silicon Valley is getting a larger share of a shrinking VC pie, as fewer VC firms outside of Silicon Valley have been able to raise “fresh” funds to invest.
 

Several industry watchers have recently predicted that the national VC industry will shrink by as much as 50% in the coming years, as institutional Limited Partners (managers of pension funds, endowments, etc.) reduce their exposure to the venture capital asset class and focus their remaining VC fund allocations on the large brand-name firms (“no one ever got fired for picking Kleiner Perkins”).  Unfortunately, most of these brand-name firms are located in Silicon Valley (and to a lesser extent in Boston), so the shrinking of the VC pie could further exacerbate the geographic concentration of investments.

I take issue with the comment in the article that implies that startups outside of Silicon Valley represent “weaker ideas.”  At Innovation Works, we continued to see strong ideas from Pittsburgh-based startups throughout 2009 – we made 32 investments through our Seed Fund, 12 investments through AlphaLab, and through our other programs we funded numerous new innovations at the universities and companies throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.   I expect that when the PWC MoneyTree numbers are released next week, the 2009 investment activity of Innovation Works’ Seed Fund will place us in the top five most active seed/early-stage investors in the United States (our numbers would have been even higher, but for the state budget debacle, which dramatically reduced our investment activity during Q3).

Granted, Silicon Valley’s startup ecosystem is decades ahead of Pittsburgh’s (or anywhere else in the world).   But, over the past ten years our region has dramatically increased its capabilities to launch and develop innovative entrepreneurial companies.  Our universities have climbed into the top tier of federally-funded research institutions, Innovation Works and other local groups are recognized nationally as leaders in the field of “venture development,” we are attracting an increasing number of experienced technology executives and repeat entrepreneurs, and we have a growing number of lawyers and accountants who are adept at working with entrepreneurial high-growth companies.   

At this point, Pittsburgh’s remaining gap seems to be an insufficient supply of traditional venture capital from VC firms and active angel investors to support the companies that are being spawned.   Unfortunately, as long as the managers of pension funds and endowments (and the investment advisors of high net worth families) believe the conventional wisdom that the best ideas and “safest” VC investment opportunities are located in Silicon Valley, the money will continue to be concentrated in the brand-name VC firms, and those firms will continue to invest in their own backyard.

by Matt Harbaugh, Chief Investment Officer of Innovation Works, Inc.

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The Regional Economy Finally Turns the Corner (by Harold D. Miller)

After several months of small ups and downs in regional job growth, November showed the first sign of a significant recovery in jobs for the region. Job losses declined by 5,600 between October and November. (This does not mean that total jobs increased in the region, but simply that the losses were smaller; in October, we had lost 32,200 jobs over the prior 12 months, but in November, we had only lost 26,600 jobs, comparable to where we were back in April.) The improvement parallels a similar turnaround in job losses nationally.

PittsburghSectorsOct-Nov09

Improvements occurred in virtually every economic sector. Only two sectors did worse in November than in October – one was the health care sector, the other was wholesale trade. Healthcare and Social Assistance is still the only sector that has more jobs today than it did a year ago, so “doing worse” simply means smaller job growth, whereas in the other sectors, “doing better” means fewer job losses than in prior months.

Another piece of good news is that the improvement in jobs in the Pittsburgh Region was as good or better than the improvement nationally. In past recessions, our regional economy recovered more slowly than the U.S. as a whole; so far, that is not happening this time, but it’s still very early to make that judgment. Moreover, our recovery in November was stronger than most of our benchmark regions. We had the 5th smallest loss of jobs between November 2008 and November 2009 among our benchmark regions, and the 6th best improvement between October and November.

BenchmarkRegionsNov07-Nov09

But simply comparing November 2009 to November 2008 is misleading, because we first started to lose jobs last November, when most regions had been losing them for six months prior to that. If you compare November 2009 to November 2007 (a 24 month period), the Pittsburgh Region had the 2nd smallest job loss among our benchmark regions. We lost 32,300 jobs over the past two years, whereas Detroit has lost 228,000 jobs, Philadelphia has lost 115,000 jobs, Cleveland has lost 71,000 jobs, and Charlotte has lost 63,000 jobs.

Nonetheless, despite the improvements over the past two months. we have a long way to go to recover the 32,000 jobs we’ve lost and get back on track for economic growth. How long will that take?

ComparisonofRecessionsNov09

One way to look at it is in comparison to the 2001-2003 recession. It took almost three years for our region to stop losing jobs and five years to begin growing jobs at even a modest rate; in fact, our rate of job growth in the post-recession period was so slow, we never recovered all of the jobs we lost before the current recession hit. The current recession hit us with job losses twice as great as the last recession, so it could take even longer for us to recover than last time.

Another way to look at it is that the fastest job growth the region has experienced in recent years was between 1999 and 2000, when jobs increased by 1.8%. Even if we could match that rate beginning immediately, it would take us nearly 2 years to get back to where we were before the current recession hit. If we grow at the average growth rate we experienced in the 1990s (about 1.3%), it will take us over 2 years to get back to where we were. And if we grow at the growth rate we experienced between 2005 and 2007 (only one-half percent), it will take us five years just to get back to where we were in 2007.

All of this makes it clear that we can’t take economic recovery for granted; aggressive efforts to attract entrepreneurs, create new businesses, provide investment capital for those businesses, and to help existing businesses grow are critical to the region’s future.

Fat City Again (by Dr. Bernard Goldstein and Dr. Tanya Kenkre)

The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show the Pittsburgh area to have a high rate of obesity, particularly among men and among the black population.  Our rate of adult obesity in 2008 ranked second highest among the 15 benchmark regions. 

The obesity rate for Pittsburgh men is 32.3 percent. This compared to a benchmark average of 27.0 percent and 27.6 percent for men across the nation.  The obesity rate for Pittsburgh women is 25.3 percent, just under the obesity rates for women in benchmark regions and the nation – 25.6 and 25.8 respectively.

The problem is present in both our white and black populations, although far worse among blacks – who in 2008 were reported to have the incredibly high rate of 46.8 percent obesity as compared to 36.1 percent in benchmark regions and 36.9 percent nationally.  This level of obesity among black residents of the Pittsburgh area is higher than any of the comparison metropolitan areas – but there are reasons to be cautious in our accepting of the numbers.

The data are derived from a national telephone survey done by the CDC each year and are based on self-reported height and weight which are used to calculate whether the individual is normal in weight, overweight or obese.  As with any such survey, the error margin can be large, particularly for smaller population sizes.   Accordingly, to help interpret the importance of these findings, we have presented the data for the Pittsburgh area black and white populations, and males and females, for each year from 2003 to 2008.

Certain patterns are repeated each year and are hard to argue with.  First and foremost, there are more obese adults in the Pittsburgh area as is evident from having more adult obesity than national or benchmark averages in all but one year.   It is also clear that Pittsburgh area men rather than women are responsible for this negative distinction.  Our men rank at or above the benchmark and national averages every year, while the percent of obesity among women is around the national and benchmark averages.

The level of obesity among the white population of Pittsburgh is consistently higher than the benchmark and national averages in each of the six years 2003-2008, ranking 10th to 14th among the 15 comparison areas.  For the black population, the numbers are not as consistent which is not surprising in view of the smaller number of survey responses.  In 2007, the black obesity rate in the Pittsburgh area was relatively low, while in 2008 it is very high.   Presumably, this represents the instability that occurs with smaller numbers – but it is certainly an issue to watch closely and on which to take action.

Three other points are obvious from these data.  First, obesity is a rapidly increasing problem in the United States; the overall national average has increased every year since 2003.  It affects us in many ways, from a higher level of diabetes in the nation, a problem which we have previously reported for the Pittsburgh area, to runaway health costs which will make a mockery of our current attempts at health care reform.  Second, obesity rates are much higher each year among black than white Americans, adding to the many health and health care burdens of this community.  Third, and perhaps most important, is information that is not reported:  The CDC obesity figures are for adults; children are not part of their telephone survey.  Obesity in children is increasing rapidly and, in addition to health issues, is a potentially enormous burden to our country in terms of national productivity and quality of life.

This is not the place to consider all of the societal and individual issues that contribute to the American obesity epidemic.  A few points seem obvious.  First, our measures to date in dealing with obesity epidemic have been relatively futile, as is evidenced by the yearly increase in the extent of obesity nationally and locally as shown in these figures.  Second, studies have documented what we all have seen - fat parents have fat children.  If we really care about the next generation we must confront obesity as a major national problem for both adults and children.