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Pittsburgh Perspectives  

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Friday, January 04, 2019  01:05 AM  (14)

How low has Pittsburgh's unemployment rate ever gone?

The first Friday of the month is typically when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) releases the latest monthly estimate of the nation’s unemployment rate. Comparable estimates for states and metropolitan regions are released over subsequent weeks.  A slight rise in the nation’s unemployment rate to 3.9% for December is still near lows not recorded since the 1960s. But how low has Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate ever been? The latest data for the Pittsburgh region is an unemployment rate of 4.2% for November, close to the lowest levels the region has experienced over the last 40 years.  

Metropolitan area unemployment statistics have only been consistently estimated since the late 1940s, after the peak economic activity during World War II. Since the 1950s, the lowest unemployment rates in Pittsburgh came during the late 1960s. Following national trends, the regional unemployment rate dipped in the 1960s as economic expansion and demand induced by the Vietnam War benefited the heavy industries still concentrated here. Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate dropped to a low of 2.1% in October 1969, over a percentage point below the nation’s low unemployment rate of 3.5% recorded for that month, and even below the lowest unemployment levels recorded for the region during the 1950s.  

Note the definition of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area during the 1960s differs from what we today consider the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which is a seven-county region made up of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.  During the 1960s the Pittsburgh metropolitan area was defined as just four counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland.  Metropolitan areas are defined by a regional labor shed, which is determined by the typical flows of commuters between counties. Some may be surprised that Butler County was only added to the definition of the Pittsburgh MSA in 1993. The most recent change came in 2003 when Armstrong County was added to the definition of the Pittsburgh MSA in 2003. 

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