Welcome to Pennsylvania. Would You Like Fries With That?
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Yes, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate has dropped again. No, it’s not as great as it seems at first blush.
Take a gander:
So yes, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania declined to 6.2 percent in February. Almost makes the economy seem normal, right? 42,000 more Pennsylvanians are working than a year ago; there are 13,000 fewer looking for work.
On the other hand: 59,000 Pennsylvanians have dropped out of the workforce in the last year. That’s a decline of 0.9 percent. That means two things: More Pennsylvanians are giving up on work in the state than are finding it here. And that 0.9 percent decline is kind of extraordinary — the national workforce decline by just 0.1 percent.
The declining unemployment rate, then, is party a function of despair at finding a job in the state. Not exactly the storyline Gov. Corbett will be trumpeting in his campaign press releases.
But hey, for kicks, let’s look at a second chart. Here’s a summing up of all the available jobs in the state:
Total nonfarm employment in Pennsylvania grew by 24,600 jobs in the last year, a 0.4 percent increase. (Nationally, that number improved by about 1 percent during the sametime period.) But here’s the crazy number: Most of the job growth came from “leisure and hospitality” jobs — the low-paid, often menial work of staffing hotels and serving hamburgers — 19,300 total.
We don’t have ready access to state statistics on this, but nationally, workers in the leisure and hospitality industries make $13.76 an hour, and work 25.7 hours a week: A wage adding up to $18,388 a year. For reference point: The federal poverty line for a family of four is 23,850.
One more important note: The Pennsylvania job sector that had the biggest losses in the last year was manufacturing, with 7,000 jobs lost. Using national statistics again, the average worker in that sector make $24.72 an hour and worked 40.7 hours a week, for a wage totaling roughly $52,317 a year.
If the federal workforce statistics on salaries bear any resemblance to real life, Pennsylvania biggest-losing sector shed $366 million in wages over the last year — while the fastest-growing sector added just $354 million.
Gov. Corbett is trumpeting his leadership along with the news of Pennsylvania’s declining unemployment numbers. But a peek under the hood shows an economy shedding middle-class jobs, and replacing them with those that let you work and still be poor. It doesn’t sound like good news.