Pardon those of us in Northeastern Pennsylvania if we don’t cheer as loudly for the latest U.S. jobs report, which contained upbeat news for the nation overall but basically the same sorry tale for our region.
Once again, when it comes to an economic recovery, we lag way behind many places, including Pennsylvania’s other metropolitan areas. In May, statistics show, the region’s unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent – worst in the commonwealth.
They move past the pain; we still strain. They rebound; we wait to rise … and wait some more.
The pattern is frustratingly familiar for longtime residents who’ve seen these cycles before: By the time “prosperity,” or something resembling it, returns to this region, the rest of the U.S. will be on the precipice of another downhill slide, or already in the dip. And down we’ll go again.
Is this area’s reputation for rampant corruption partly to blame, chasing away prospective new employers?
Can the trouble be pinned on “brain drain,” the siphoning of some of the area’s brightest young minds to college programs and career paths far from here? Historically, has the dominance of a few industries, mining and garment-making, discouraged the arrival of a broader spectrum of businesses, thereby making the region more vulnerable to downturns?
Have all these factors, and others, hamstrung efforts to revitalize a place with no shortage of attributes, including an available workforce?
Plenty of elected officials through the decades, on both the state and federal level, have campaigned locally on promises of making job creation their “number-one priority.” Yet, here we are in mid-2014, dead last in the Keystone State.
Something significant needs to change.
If our schools aren’t properly preparing graduates for available careers, let’s shake up our education system. If our state and counties are splintered into too many divisions to be attractive to industry, let’s consolidate. If corrupt figures retain a stranglehold on certain areas of the economy, let’s root them out.
Northeastern Pennsylvania’s contingent of state lawmakers in office today, working collectively, can begin by articulating a vision for this area’s economy. By looking beyond the boundaries of their respective districts, they can help to eliminate many of the hurdles to business growth. Over a sustained period, they and their successors can not only act to create a conducive business environment but potentially recruit specific industries. (The Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve, while a tremendous asset, is not a permanent answer.)
In the shorter term, lawmakers and residents alike can bend the ears of the two men vying in November for the governor’s office: incumbent Tom Corbett and challenger Tom Wolf. Tell them it’s Northeastern Pennsylvania’s turn for some heightened attention from Harrisburg; we need improved rail, roads and other links to commercial centers in New Jersey and New York.
Yes, the impressive job gains made across the U.S. – 288,000 workers added to payrolls in June – continue a positive trend. The report issued last week bodes well for the nation as a whole and, sooner or later, our part of it. Hidden among the Labor Department’s statistics, however, are worrisome issues. Too many unemployed people have entirely stopped searching for jobs. In particular, too many young adults can’t get work.
Washington must do more to pump up job-seekers’ prospects, beginning with more significant transportation spending.
Meanwhile, the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania – and the elected officials who represent them – shouldn’t be content to ride the coattails of other, more vibrant communities. We need to boldly pursue untried solutions for this region’s unending economic malaise.
The options are clear: Adopt new strategies, diversify and grow. Or, accept the status quo and always languish.