Report: PA needs to close 'jobs deficit'

Date: 
August 29, 2012

 

Pittsburgh Business Times

A report from a left-leaning think tank said that Pennsylvania needs 301,000 jobs to recover from the recession and that the pace of job loss accelerated in the past year.

 

The Keystone Research Center in Harrisburg released its annual "State of Working Pennsylvania" report Wednesday. The report painted a bleak picture of the past 11 years in Pennsylvania, what the report calls a "lost decade" of increasing disparity between the upper income earners and the middle class plus flat employment growth and a worsening job market.

 

Pennsylvania has done better since the December 2007 beginining of the great recession than the U.S. overall, with an average unemployment rate of 7.8 percent compared to the national rate of 8.8 percent. Pittsburgh has done even better, showing fewer economic problems and staying well below the national unemployment rate throughout the recession.

 

But Mark Price, a labor economist with the Keystone Research Center who co-authored the study, said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday that the job market has recently grown cooler.

 

"The Pennsylvania labor market is not performing very well," Price said. "It's losing ground."

 

Pittsburgh's unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 7.4 percent in July, according to data released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry. Pennsylvania's jobless rate also rose to 7.9 percent in July; the national rate is 8.3 percent.

 

The so-called "jobs deficit," the amount it would take to get the commonwealth back to the employment level of December 2007, is 301,000.

 

"One of the more grim facts from the past year is that the jobs deficit has actually increased by 74,000," Price said.

 

That has led to downward pressure on wages, the Keystone Research Center's report said. It cited a decline in median four-person family income between 2000 and 2010.

 

"Households are basically worse off than they were a decade ago," Price said. And it said that the top 1 percent of earners accounted for 75 percent of income growth in the state in 2010, with wages, investment and other income.

 

The Keystone Research Center's executive director, Stephen Herzenberg, said that policymakers need to take the middle class more into account and to chart a new course. Herzenberg said that forecasts for the labor market aren't promising and that there's a chance that there'll be another "lost decade" for the state's middle class.

 

The report counsels more spending on education, infrastructure and research and an increase in the federal minimum wage.