The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Business

April 29, 2014

Data: Economy sluggish in first quarter

JOHNSTOWN — First quarter unadjusted statistics for the local labor market show little indication that the economy is  quickly getting back on track while breaking free of its winter doldrums. Modest month-to-month changes include a gain of 300 jobs in March, producing an average job count of 57,400 for the first three months.

Currently, seasonally adjusted total nonfarm jobs in the Johnstown MSA were essentially unchanged at 57,800. Over the year, jobs were down 500 locally.

It is worth emphasizing  that either measure shows a job picture that is off to a comparatively slow start so far this year.

While there is little question that the level of economic activity locally was impacted by weather and  related  factors,  it is a common theme for labor markets to report fewer jobs overall during the first quarter.  

This well-established pattern  that  is attributed to the  seasonal nature of employment is sometimes forgotten, as many jobs are filled or vacated each year focusing on businesses that have a strong seasonal component.

These industries locally   include construction, retail trade, leisure and hospitality and other services and are largely responsible for the job changes reported across the area  through the first quarter.

A comparison of over the year activity among the area’s service-producing industries indicates a more dynamic pattern of change involving most all industry groups, paced by a sizeable reduction in state government. Combined job losses here totaled 400.

Reportedly, other employment developments locally  through March show no change among the goods-producing industries, where the job count  remained at 5,700. Manufacturing is the largest employer within this major sector, where the job level has remained constant at 3,700 jobs since September of last year.

The trend in manufacturing can best be summed up as stable.

Another indicator of job market change is the month-to- month measure of unemployment. Currently, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the Johnstown MSA fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.2 percent and is reflective of the comparatively static position of both the labor force and number of residents employed locally, a trend not uncommon for this time period. Over the year, the rate fell 1.8 percentage points.

Unfortunately the local area did not improve its position when compared to the other 14  MSAs across the state in March.  Johnstown was just below Scranton Wilkes-Barre MSA,  which again claimed the top position in the state.

The jobless rate statewide decreased to 6.0 percent while the national figure was unchanged at 6.7 percent. The unemployment rates for neighboring labor market areas were: Blair County 5.8 percent; Somerset 7.8 percent; and Bedford 7.6 percent.

While the labor market numbers through the first quarter have again reminded us of the painstakingly slow road to sustained  improvement, the local economy appears to have settled into a more positive stable position to move forward.

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.

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