So I typed this up and discovered at the end something else of wonkish note. Calculating the Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate is a bit less clear than I thought.. and I already thought we overinterpret these monthly data dumps for a host of reasons. So the state Department of Labor reported that the Pittsburgh region’s unemployment rate, when seasonally adjusted, came in at 6.7% for February (and my division of their numbers gets you to the ominous 6.66%) OK. That is what we all normally look at and the number the media reports on. Just recently the US Bureau of Labor Statistics started reporting its own seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for the Pittsburgh region. In the past BLS reported the unadjusted unemployment rates for most MSAs but only seasonally adjusted rates for a subset of regions which didn’t include Pittsburgh in recent years. Last year they started reporting their own seasonally adjusted rates for most MSAs. The BLS calculation of the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Pittsburgh in February is 6.8%
Which to use? For the comparison across MSAs I’ll stick with the BLS calculation for the moment.
So how (relatively) low is the region’s unemployment rate? The top 40 labor markets are in the graph below. The 5 places with lower unemployment rates include 2 regions with sizable presence of government jobs (Washington and Virginia Beach)… government jobs which Pittsburgh lacks.. and two regions which may top us in the proportion of higher education related employment (Boston and Austin). Leaves only Minneapolis. Their low unemployment rate must be because of all the bikes.
Yes, of course… the ‘relative’ unemployment rate is not really relevant to anyone individually. In reality unemployment is either zero or 100% depending on your personal circumstances. Still, how high is the region’s unemployment rate? Since 1970, the region’s average unemployment rate works out to be a bit over 6.6%. The nation’s average unemployment rate works out to 6.4%. So we have a bit to go to reach those levels… but at (6.7 or 6.8) it is not a big jump.