The progress of steel

So here is a conversation I have been having lately that confuses me.  Lots of folks locally really think there has been a big surge in the steel industry recently right here in the Pittsburgh region. It really is a strong belief by some that hiring and employment are way up in the core steel industries.  Maybe part of the explanation is that news coverage of steel in the region is actually contradictory.  These two stories both ran recently:

Tough on steel: Makers barely breaking even as shares fall, supplies swell

yet there was also this with something of a focus on local steel plants old and new:

Industry awakens: Mushrooming energy sector gets mills humming again

So here is what the data actually says about jobs.  Recent employment in the Pittsburgh MSA steel industry is a remarkably stable time series.  It may be the most stable employment trend in the region. Literally unchanged at all in 12 straight months.  Maybe employment is up, but it would be an interesting story why the data is showing such stability.  If the data is remotely correct, there is no story at all of a big jump, nor of any big decline in steel industry employment.  The story is how unchanged it has been of late.

But that only says so much.  Here is a graphic of the Pittsburgh MSA’s share of US employment in primary metals industries.  Again, a remarkably stable time series in itself.

But does that mean all is good for local steel industry employment?  The proportion of US jobs in Pittsburgh is stable, but even since 1990 the total number of jobs classified as in primary metals industries are down 40%.  The only rebound nationally has been some bounceback from the nadir of investments at the most dismal point in the recession.

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