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Pittsburgh Perspectives  

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Monday, November 23, 2020  12:05 PM  (43)

More on the uneven pandemic impacts in the workforce

As both the regional and national economies continue to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, evidence continues to show that the impacts have been far from even across the labor force.  Similar to national trends, employment losses and depressed earnings been much starker for low-wage workers across the Pittsburgh region. The disparity of impacts across different types of workers has produced significant shifts in composition of the workforce and surprising shifts in the regional wage structure. 

In the 2nd Quarter of 2020 – the period when Covid-19 related job losses peaked – employment levels across the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) contracted by over 169 thousand jobs, or around 15% of all regional jobs, compared to the 2nd quarter of 2019. Yet, despite the historic scale of job losses, average weekly wages in the Pittsburgh region increased by 7.7% over the same period.

Increased average wages were not the result of wage increases for individual workers, but were primarily the result of selective impacts of job losses within the labor force. As low-wage workers are more likely to have experienced temporary or permanent layoffs as a result of the pandemic, higher-wage workers were far more likely to have retained their jobs. Estimates of average weekly wages are compiled from data on workers currently employed, and do not include those not at work, even if they were recently furloughed due to Covid-19 or for other reasons. The sharp divergence between the scale job losses and increasing wages reflects the magnified impact of job losses for lower-income workers.  

Most counties in the Pittsburgh MSA experienced a similar divergence between changes in employment levels and average wages. In the 2nd Quarter of 2020, employment levels across Pittsburgh MSA counties were down between 13.6-18.4% compared to the year prior. But most counties experienced higher average weekly wages ranging up to an increase of 8.3% for workers in Allegheny County. Within the region, only Beaver County experienced a slight (-0.2%) decline in average weekly wages.

  Employment   Average Weekly Wage   Year Over Year Change
County or Region   2019Q2 2020Q2 Change   2019Q2 2020Q2 Change   Employment Wages
Allegheny 705,797 602,728 -103,069   $1,167 $1,266 +$99   -14.6% +8.5%
Armstrong 16,600 14,342 -2,258   $795 $861 +$66   -13.6% +8.3%
Beaver 56,167 45,812 -10,355   $981 $979 -$2   -18.4% -0.2%
Butler 88,405 77,006 -11,399   $994 $1,075 +$81   -12.9% +8.1%
Fayette 40,078 34,051 -6,027   $794 $833 +$39   -15.0% +4.9%
Washington 90,000 74,499 -15,501   $1,048 $1,106 +$58   -17.2% +5.5%
Westmoreland 135,316 113,991 -21,325   $871 $930 +$59   -15.8% +6.8%
Pittsburgh MSA 1,132,362 962,430 -169,932   $1,081 1,164 +$83   -15.0% +7.7%
Pennsylvania 5,949,633 5,094,376 -855,257   $1,071 1,169 +$98   -14.4% +9.2%

Source: Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages via CWIA

These results are consistent with survey results the University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) compiled in the spring which showed that workers with lower levels of educational attainment were far more likely to have experienced job losses due to Covid-19.  At the time, over 29 percent of Allegheny County workers with only a high school degree or less reported being out of work due to Covid-19, compared to just 6% of workers with a master’s degree or higher levels of educational attainment.

While some Covid-19 impacts on the labor force have mitigated since the spring, there remains a wide disparity in employment impacts across different industry sectors.  While some regional industries such as financial services have maintained employment levels comparable with pre-Covid-19 levels, and other industries have been regaining lost jobs, some industries have continued to experience significantly depressed employment levels compared to the period before the onset of the pandemic. As of October, regional employment in leisure and hospitality industries remain nearly 30% below 2019 levels as of October.  

Data here is drawn from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) and distributed by the Pennsylvania Center for Workforce Information and Analysis (CWIA). The QCEW tabulates the number of establishments, monthly employment and quarterly wages for workers covered by state unemployment insurance (UI) laws and Federal workers covered by the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. An estimated 95% of all jobs available in the United States are covered by these programs. Wages are part of workers' compensation for paid employment.  Not captured in data on wages is the impact of regular or enhanced unemployment insurance (UI) benefits received by eligible workers.   

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