CNHI State Reporter
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle took a look at a highly critical jobs report from a liberal-leaning Harrisburg think tank and reached completely different conclusions.
The Keystone Research Center’s “State of Working in PA” blamed government spending cuts on the loss of 45,000 public sector jobs. Those lost jobs have been a drag on the economic recovery in the commonwealth, the study concluded.
“Policymakers have been hitting the economic brakes when they should be hitting the accelerator,” said Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, one of the authors of the study.
“You don’t cut your way out of an economic downturn,” said state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont.
Republican lawmakers countered that school districts were responsible for many of those cuts, and local school boards need to be held accountable for their spending decisions.
“We don’t make decisions about hiring and firing,” said state Rep. Lynda Schlegel-Culver, R-Northumberland.
State Rep. Fred Keller said that his hometown school district has just announced it is planning to spend $11.5 million on athletic fields. When districts feel they have the resources to spend on sports, they can’t blame the state for teacher layoffs, Keller said.
“It’s wrong for the government to spend money just to employ people,” Keller said.
“We should let you keep that money.”
State Rep. Jaret Gibbons, D-Lawrence, said Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republicans have been manipulating the data by arguing that the state’s spending on basic education funding has increased. School dollars funneled through other channels have dried up.
“It shouldn’t be a race to the bottom,” said state Rep. Mark Longietti, D-Mercer.
By investing in education – from preschool through college – the state could begin to produce workers better prepared to work in businesses that are competing in a global economy, Longietti said.
Many Republican, business-backed proposals purported to help improve the state’s economic competitiveness are just ways to drive down wages, Longietti said.
Gibbons said most employers say their biggest concerns when it comes to expansion are finding suitable employees, transportation and other types of infrastructure, and aggravatingly slow regulatory processes.
Culver said that the state has taken steps to encourage business growth, including the creation of tax credits, and reforms intended to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits.
Those efforts have not translated into job creation on par with that seen in other states, the Keystone Research Center found.
Between January 2010 and 2011, the first full year following the Great Recession, Pennsylvania added 87,300 new jobs. The next year, that figure dropped to 46,200 between January 2011 and 2012. Then, the next year, the number of new jobs dropped again to 35,000 between January 2012 and 2013, the report found.
Through July 2013, the state added only 5,400 jobs, putting it on track to add fewer than 11,000 jobs in the current year. Pennsylvania ranked 46th in job growth since January 2011.
The recovery has been slowest for women and the college-educated. Researchers said it is likely that the layoff of 45,000 teachers and other public-sector workers in Pennsylvania were at play. The unemployment rate for men fell by 1.6 percentage points to 7.9 percent in 2012, while the unemployment for women remained essentially unchanged at 7.7 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate was essentially unchanged – at 4.8 percent in 2012 – for workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
From 2010 to 2012, low-wage workers at the 10th percentile saw their earnings fall by 3.8 percent to $8.37 an hour, while a worker earning the state’s median wage saw earnings fall by 2.6 percent to $16.77 an hour.
Somerset County lost 1,091 jobs from 2010 to 2012. Northumberland County lost 680 jobs.
Cambria County lost 691 jobs, and that didn’t include the 370 jobs that evaporated when the state shuttered SCI-Cresson earlier this year. The prison’s operations were merged with another prison at the new SCI-Benner in Centre County. That still rankles lawmakers from Johnstown.
“Historically, the state put prisons in areas of high unemployment, so what the rationale was for moving those jobs to State College, an area with virtually no unemployment, I don’t know,” Wozniak said.
A bright spot
There were bright spots found in the research for Working in PA 2013.
Montour County, home to Geisinger Health Systems, added 1,200 jobs in the three years studied. Many of those new jobs were added due to the construction of the Hospital for Advanced Medicine and hires tied to the Geisinger Health Plan, spokesman Michael Ferlazzo said.
Researchers found that Montour County ranked 14th out of 391 counties Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and West Virginia.
Montour County’s job growth was the fastest of any county in Pennsylvania.