Wonk trivia

Here is a trivia question.  What has been the average unemployment rate for the Pittsburgh region’s labor market over the last 40 years?


That certainly includes some bad times averaged in there, but it also averages in some pretty good times as well.  The question was prompted by the quote in the paper today describing the regional unemployment rate drop down to 6.8% as being “still a long way to go to return to normal employment“.

So not even any light there at the end of the tunnel as yet?  Like waiting for Godot for a positive sign in the local economy.

Again, I like to keep track of the relative unemployment rate for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it is a decent predictor of net migration rates for metropolitan regions.  Here is what that looks like which when you combine the length (54 months since the national unemployment rate was higher than Pittsburgh’s) and depth (2 full percentage points below the US rate) clearly now represents some unprecedented times for the region in terms of how the region is performing compared to the nation.

So still not an absolute record in just how far below the US we are.  There was one month in April of 1975 when we were 2.1 percentage points below the national unemployment rate. Darn rounding error is messing up my factoid.  And just for one other little sidebar to this all  The City of Pittsburgh unemployment rate is coming in for March at 7.3%.  The City of Detroit for example, seems stuck above 20%.

Lots more to parse of course.  Some confusion over what is happening in the labor force which has not grown much in recent months.  While the relative unemployment rate chart would indicate there is still net migration into the region, the fact that the post-recession labor markets are beginning to recover nationally means that the pressure to move out of many other regions is nowhere near as dire as it was a year or two ago.  So I would not be surprised if say the flow of folks from places like Detroit (which is now down to 11% unemployment) for example to Pittsburgh has come down.  There is also the issue of the folks who wound up remaining in the labor force a bit unwillingly because their retirement portfolios took such a hit in 2008.  That was the story with a lot of elderly deferring retirement.  Well… you may have noticed the stock market has done quite well the last couple years and at least at the margin, a lot of folks who were continuing to work may now feel empowered to finally retire. Probably a part of what is happening to the unemployment rate as those openings filter down.

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