The good news: The Northeastern Pennsylvania region’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent in February — marking the lowest it’s been since Jan. 2009.
The bad news: 2,800 fewer people were working in February compared to one year prior, when unemployment was at 9.9 percent.
And though the report, issued Tuesday by the state’s Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, showed another month with an unemployment rate dip, it moved the region one month closer to a dubious anniversary.
Steven Zellers, an analyst with the Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, said the report shows “a mixed bag.”
“There’s no doubt the labor force is going down, that has been a trend,” Zellers said. He blamed a combination of people retiring and “discouraged workers dropping out of the workforce.”
A slow recovery
Anthony L. Liuzzo, director of Arizona business programs for Wilkes University’s site in Mesa, said the good news is that the unemployment rate and the economy are moving in the right direction “but it’s not moving fast enough.”
“It’s moving so slow that people are getting frustrated and dropping out of the workforce,” he said.
A closer look at the seasonally adjusted figures show there were also 1,800 fewer positions available in the tri-county area included in the metro area — Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties.
While there were plenty of negatives contained within the report, Zellers said there were some sectors showing strong gains.
“There are bright spots even though this is a mixed bag,” Zellers said.
Retail trade, as well as transportation, warehousing and utilities, typically drop slightly in February as employers continue to adjust to post-holiday declines in business. However, this February had a slight gain with retail showing an increase of 100 jobs and transportation, warehousing and utilities up 400.
Over the year, the largest job increases were seen in mining, logging and construction, up 400, and transportation, warehousing and utilities, up 1,000. The largest decreases were in retail trade, which plummeted 700 jobs, and professional and business services, down 1,200.
Other than the local metro region, only Johnstown, at 7.2 percent, had rates above 6.7 percent. Lebanon, at 4.7 percent, had the lowest rate in the state.
Liuzzo said that “in absolute terms, the performance is not good” but added “related to where we were, it’s an improvement, I suppose.”
“We’re nowhere near where we should be,” he added.
When taken at the month-to-month level only, the report showed strong signs, said Teri Ooms, the executive director of The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University.
“It is positive news, not just because the seasonally adjusted rate dropped from 8.1 to 7.7 from January to February, but also because this occurred while the labor force grew, by 500, employment grew by 1,500 and unemployment dropped by 1,000.
“This means that new people entered the workforce, and despite that increase, individuals that have been unemployed found jobs. So in addition to a growing labor force, jobs were also created during the period,” Ooms said.
If the region has the highest unemployment rate of the state’s 14 major metro areas when the March report is released on April 29, it will mark four years the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton region has held that distinction.
Since February 2013, the local rate fell 2.2 percentage points, Pennsylvania’s rate dropped 1.5 percentage points and the U.S. rate decreased one full percentage point. The dip marked four straight months with a declining unemployment rate locally, and since December the rate has dropped a full percentage point.