WILKES-BARRE — Over the next five years, there are projected to be more than 4,000 job openings in the region for nursing, psychiatric and home health aides.
That statistic comes from the latest report compiled by The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University.
Those 4,000 projected jobs are closely followed by personal care aides and several other nursing and health-related occupations are also represented in the report.
“A common theme is that many of the top healthcare occupations here require a bachelor’s degree or less, indicating relatively low barriers to entry to these professions,” said Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute. “However, the industry also has demand for non-health support staff, including building cleaning workers and childcare workers. In total, these 10 occupations represent more than 15,000 job openings in the region in the coming years.”
Ooms said in the Spring 2018 edition of The Institute’s Quarterly Economy Tracker, data was presented on regional occupation growth compared to other regions in Pennsylvania. The data showed some differences across regions, but a general trend toward growth in occupations that do not necessarily require a four year college degree. The impacts of the health care, retail, and manufacturing sectors were evident in the growth projections.
According to the report, the data shows occupational projections for the health care and manufacturing industries as two of the three largest industries by employment in the region.
Ooms said the region’s manufacturing industry is projected to see more than 1,000 openings for miscellaneous production workers and over 900 openings for laborers and material movers. Other production jobs, including assemblers/fabricators, machine operators, and food processing workers, are also projected to be in demand.
Beyond these first-line manufacturing jobs, there is also a projected need for supervisors (350 openings) and installation and repair workers (269 openings).
“Many of these in-demand jobs in the region’s key industries are attainable without extensive post-secondary education,.” Ooms said. “With adequate workforce development and job placement assistance, these opportunities should be well-suited for workers displaced from other occupations and those entering or re-entering the workforce.”
The report showed that residents of the two-county (Luzerne/Lackawanna) region commute to many different locations to work.
However, nearly three-fourths work within Lackawanna or Luzerne Counties — more than 161,000 jobs. The next most prominent work destinations outside the region are Lehigh, Montgomery, and Columbia counties. More than 58,000 regional residents commute to other counties to work — however, over 60,000 nonresidents commute into the region.
Personal income refers to an individual or groups’ total earnings for a given period. Ooms said these earnings usually stem from income streams such as working wages, investments, and government or social benefits. PCE, or Personal Consumption Expenditures price index, is one measure of price changes for consumer goods and services.
• The residents from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton metropolitan area have lower personal incomes than the national average ($42,488 vs. $49,246 annually).
• The region has seen slower income growth compared with the U.S. as a whole. However, this gap has narrowed, and as of 2016, the regional rate of income growth nearly mirrors the national rate.
• The percent change over time of personal income and PCE are typically correlated. As incomes increase, individuals have more money to spend on goods, demand rises, and prices for goods increase.
“However, when there is a significant difference in these indicators, it tells us something about the purchasing power of people for the area that is being examined,” Ooms said.
Ooms explained that in 2016, as PCE’s rate of increase stayed fairly constant in the Commonwealth — from 3 percent in 2015 to 3.1 percent, in 2016. Personal income in Northeastern Pennsylvania decelerated from an increase of 3.6 percent in 2015, to 2 percent in 2016.
“This deceleration denotes a decrease in purchasing power for people in the region, and was also seen in data examined at the national level,” Ooms said. “If the trend continues into 2018 and beyond, it could be a sign that consumers are less willing to spend and therefore limit economic growth.”
However, Ooms said the closing of the gap between the metro area and U.S. in personal income growth is a positive sign for the regional economy.
Interpreting the data
Ooms said the most important takeaways are the job growth sectors in health care and manufacturing — they are options for workers along the entire skill spectrum and there are “incredible” local opportunities.
“The most concerning is that there are health care professional shortages nationwide and it is predicted to be a challenge to fill these positions,” Ooms said. “This means that patient care could be compromised if patients are waiting longer to see a physician for any type of appointments and if there is less hospital staff to care for patients.”
Ooms said there is more evidence that we live in a regional economy and regional approaches to problem solving will yield increase successes.
“I think there is incredible opportunity to harness tourism money and more spending with employees from other areas working in the region,” Ooms said. “Conversely, we have to continue to market internally so our residents that commute spend their money in the region.”
Ooms said the most concerning factor is infrastructure and transportation.
“We need to ensure that our infrastructure is in good condition and that transportation options exist to move people in the most cost-effective efficient manner and that everyone can get to work and meet their basic needs, even if they don’t own a personal vehicle,” Ooms said.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.