One figure doesn’t tell whole story

September 18th, 2015 7:55 pm

First Posted: 4/30/2013

The local unemployment report for March issued Tuesday shows the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased three-tenths of a percentage point from February to 9.6 percent. But an economics professor said the numbers are misleading.

Anthony Liuzzo of Wilkes University said that at first glance the state report looks good, thanks to the dip in the unemployment rate. But a closer look shows troubling numbers, he said.

The number of area people categorized as unemployed dropped by 1,000 from February to March, while the number of people looking for jobs dropped by 1,900 in that time span. The number of people working locally also dropped by 1,000, according to state Department of Labor and Industry data.

Liuzzo noted there are plenty of variables that come into play with all of those numbers, but the bottom line is a few hundred people lost their jobs and an additional few hundred got tired of looking for a job and abandoned the search.

Those numbers weren’t the only eye-openers. The report shows:

• The 9.6 percent unemployment rate was still the highest of the state’s 14 metro statistical areas and was also a half of a percentage point higher than the rate in March 2012. This marked the 36th consecutive month the region registered the highest rate in the state.

• The total number of jobs in the region decreased by 1,600 over the month to 254,900.

• The metro area, made up of Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties, lost 800 jobs over the year, a decrease of .3 percent. Only three other metro areas in the state posted over-the-year decreases: Erie, Johnstown and State College.

• Along with Johnstown, at 9.2 percent, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre was the only metro area with an unemployment rate above 8.4 percent.

Most over-the-month changes were modest in some job sectors. Mining, logging and construction saw a spike of 300 jobs, and leisure and hospitality sector was up 600. Both of them experienced seasonal movements as winter weather moved out. Health care and social assistance and retail trade were the two sectors with the largest declines over the month, down 400 jobs each.

Over the year, the super-sector of education and health services saw a decline in jobs by 1,000.

“That’s our pride and joy,” Liuzzo said of the super-sector the region has been touting for years thanks to the high number of colleges and health-care employers. He said he could explain those losses in the summer when the school year ends but not in March.

One of the strongest sectors locally was the professional and business services, which reported 1,500 more jobs over the year, a 5.9 percent increase. Conversely, Pennsylvania saw jobs increase by 0.7 percent over the same period in that sector.

There was some decent news to be found when comparing the region with the state and country.

The local month-to-month drop was actually better than the state and national decreases. Pennsylvania’s rate decreased two-tenths of a point over the month to 7.9 percent, while the United States’ rate was at 7.6 percent, down one-tenth. Over the past year, the rate rose three-tenths in the state, and the U.S. rate fell six-tenths of a percentage point.

Liuzzo said overall the news found in the report wasn’t expected, but it’s also not something that should be fretted over, too much.

“I have no reason to believe this is the start of something bad or something permanent,” Liuzzo said. “It could just be a slowdown. The economy expanded so much, maybe businesses are just taking a breather.”

At a county level, Luzerne, Lackawanna and Wyoming mirrored the region as a whole by seeing decreases in workers, employment pool and the number of workers identified as unemployed.

For the first time this year, all three counties reported seasonally adjusted unemployment rates below 10 percent. In February, both Luzerne and Wyoming’s rates stood at 10 percent or higher.

Luzerne’s rate in March was 9.5 percent and Wyoming’s was 9.4. Lackawanna saw its rate drop from 8.6 percent to 8.4 percent.