Pittsburgh's Etch a sketch moment

We are just coming up on the 30-year anniversary of what might have been Pittsburgh’s Etch a sketch moment.  Three decades ago Pittsburgh was just about halfway through the 18 months that changed it forever.  In August 1981 the region’s unemployment rate was 7.2%; a high, but not scary level.  Total unemployed in the region measured 86,600.   18 months later in January 1983 over 212 thousand would be unemployed and the unemployment rate was at least officially reported as 18.2%.

At the very worst of the Great Recession (AP style guide requires the use capitals for that), regional economic conditions would barely hit half those numbers. If anything those numbers understate the differences between the two periods.  The recent peaks in unemployment rate and total unemployed only reached those levels because there has been a turnaround in migration. There has been several years of net population migration into the Pittsburgh region, and that clearly has an impact on labor force data. Without the new residents coming into the region, neither the regional unemployment rate nor count of unemployed would have been as high.  30 years ago we all know the opposite was going on here with a steady stream of unemployed workers departing the Pittsburgh regon.  The result was making those January 1983 peaks peak lower than they might otherwise have been.

Don’t get me wrong, 30 years ago there was still a lot of denial going on.  Lots of folks believing manufacturing was going to rebound and there was no reason to shift course. Some of that denial persists to this day, but at some point 30 years ago a plurality of the collective consciousness accepted the inevitable and decided to move on if only because there was no other choice.

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