For The Tribune-Democrat
It is no secret that the Johnstown area economy did not do well through the first quarter.
However, the local labor market rebounded to start the second quarter, adding 1,000 jobs in April, the most since the fall of last year. In addition, unemployment declined through this period, clearly indicating the pace of economic activity may be picking up even if progress earlier had been disappointingly slow.
Other factors that play a part in gauging labor market conditions in the area include an analysis of hiring patterns and the number of long-term unemployed, and in both cases we continue to see a positive trend. However, some of the other often-cited indicators used to measure a particular dimension of labor market activity may send conflicting signals about labor market conditions.
The total number of jobs in the Johnstown Metropolitan Statistical Area numbered 58,600 in April. The substantial over-the-month gain was dominated by the start of seasonal staffing that collectively resulted in a job gain of 700 among the area’s service-producing industries. Most all key industries within this group added workers with the exception of retail trade, information and other services. Overall, this group represents nearly 90 percent of all jobs in this labor market.
It is noteworthy that surveys indicate that nearly three-fourths of all of summer workers hired will be new workers that are not returning from a prior season. Also, when gauging improvement in the overall job pattern among the service producing industries, it is important to understand that many seasonal additions take place despite existing labor market conditions.
The goods-producing group, home to manufacturing, mining and construction, managed to add 300 more jobs in April. While most of this gain can be traced to seasonal additions in construction, there remains some concern with employment developments within the dominant manufacturing sector that has not seen its job level advance from 3,700 since May of last year. Historically, the numbers are even more challenging dating back to the pre-recession job level of 4,900. Much of this loss throughout this period can be traced to plant relocations and staff reductions mandated by business developments.
More good news.
In April, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Johnstown MSA fell three-tenths of a percentage point to 6.9 percent, even as the labor force remained relatively stagnant. Over the year, the rate fell 2.0 percentage points. The last time the rate was this low was in November 2008.
By comparison, the rate for Pennsylvania decreased three-tenths to 5.7 percent, while the national rate fell four-tenths to 6.3 percent. Unemployment rates of neighboring counties were: Blair (5.6 percent), Bedford (7.1 percent), Somerset (7.0 percent) and Indiana (5.3 percent).
For 40 years, Bill Findley was employed by the state Department of Labor and Industry Center for Workforce Information and Analysis as a workforce information specialist, monitoring and reporting on labor market developments in this area and across the region.