BY BILL FINDLEY
FOR THE TRIBUNE-DEMOCRAT
The Johnstown metropolitan statistical area ended 2013 with the labor market recovery far from complete, as final numbers show an average decline of 1,000 jobs here last year.
The only worse performance came in 2008-2009, when the full impact of the recession swept through the area economy, dropping the annual job total by 1,900.
Area manufacturing industries and government were responsible for much of the loss last year, shedding a combined total of 900 jobs. Other nominal declines were reported in retail trade and financial activities. Education and health services reportedly advanced in this 12-month period.
The comparatively poor performance last year can be traced to a number of circumstances that continue to plague job growth here.
The current pace of job creation points to the sustained problem of the local labor market in generating new employment opportunities. Additionally, a substantial number of the reported losses in both state government and manufacturing are of a permanent nature, representing general staff reductions, transfers of operations and plant closings in the past year. The loss in state government can be traced to the closing of the state correctional facility at SCI-Cresson.
Another persistent problem finds some area workers who have lost their jobs during this period were in industries that are not likely to recover their former strength or return to conditions that prevailed prior to the recession. This has resulted in a stubbornly high number of underemployed part-time workers who possess the skills to have higher quality jobs and want to work full time.
Unemployment in 2013 averaged 8.7 percent. There has been little movement in the jobless rate since declining from a 9.2 percent level in 2008. Returning to the prerecession level that was close to 6 percent currently seems to be out of reach.
Despite the economy still facing many significant problems, many are looking to 2014 and asking if this will be the year that the local area finally shakes off the lingering effects of the Great Recession. If January is any indication, the area is starting off in a positive direction.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent, while remaining above the comparable statewide rate of 6.6 percent and the national figure of 6.4 percent. The seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs total climbed to 58,500, despite modest seasonal related declines in education and health services and local government.
From a broader, more long-ranged perspective, labor market activity in 2014 will continue to be challenged as many of the problems associated with the recovery and unrelated job losses are not envisioned to be recovered quickly.
Looking back does not suggest optimism, while looking ahead may present opportunity to restore confidence in our area economy through job creation and continued economic expansion.
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.
The following are the average number of jobs in the Johnstown metropolitan statistical area:
2005 – 60,100
2006 – 61,400
2007 – 61,700
2008 – 61,900
2009 – 60,000
2010 – 59,800
2011 – 59,800
2012 – 59,200
2013 – 58,200