The Pennsylvania economy needs more than a jump-start.
The October unemployment report shows that the state’s economic engine just doesn’t have the horsepower it did a few years ago.
While October’s jobless numbers fell to 5.9% for the first time since April 2020, that doesn’t mean that it is getting easier for employers to fill empty roles. More people are dropping out of the workforce. Specifically, in one month, an additional 700 people climbed out of an increasingly shallow labor pool.
”It’s still flat. There’s not a mass of people coming back to work,” said Chris Briem, regional economist for the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research.
A year ago, this kind of thing was attributed by some to laziness of would-be workers who just weren’t interested in punching a clock if they could get extended and expanded pandemic unemployment benefits instead. But those longer time frames and bigger checks have been gone since September.
There could be multiple reasons, including parents who decided to stay home rather than sending kids to hard-to-find and expensive day care. But Frank Gamrat, an economist and executive director of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, speculated about older members of the labor force not returning to work because of health concerns.
That is an aspect that shouldn’t just be seen as covid-related but as something on Pennsylvania’s economic horizon.
The state has an aging population. That is frequently considered when talking about health topics. It’s definitely a reality of politics as the congressional delegation shrinks after the census points to a redistribution of seniors to more comfortable climates.
But it needs to be considered from a workforce standpoint as well. Does an older population that might be more health conscious now presage a Pennsylvania where its most marketable economic asset — its pool of workers — is draining faster than expected? Has the pandemic just hastened the inevitable?
This doesn’t have to be a detriment. It just has to be considered as a practicality. Is Pennsylvania prepared for that segment of its working population to bow out early? If so, how? If not, why?
And if that happens, does it change how Pennsylvania’s economy competes on the national and international stage?
Maybe the November jobs report will tell a different story, but the state’s population isn’t getting any younger, and the issue of our changing workforce still needs to be addressed.