Report: Job Growth Continues In Region
PLAINS TWP. — Luzerne and Lackawanna counties continue to see job growth and labor force participation increasing and the unemployment rate decreasing, said Teri Ooms, executive director at The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development at Wilkes University.
Ooms told hundreds of business leaders who attended the annual Indicators Forum Thursday at Mohegan Sun Pocono that while these are good factors, it has resulted in a workforce shortage.
“That doesn’t alleviate a workforce challenge but we’re moving in the right direction with regard to getting more people in jobs,” she said.
Ooms released the 2019 Indicators Report for Luzerne and Lackawanna counties Thursday that provided data and trends on a variety of issues including jobs, the economy, education, health care, education, housing and infrastructure.
She said the average annual salary in the region is $41,899, which is lower than the state average of $54,000, but wages should increase as companies try to fill jobs.
“The good news is we’re continuing to see those numbers increase on an annual basis and we’re more likely to see a more increasing rate as the workforce shortage continues because it will put upward pressure on wages,” Ooms said. “We’re actually starting to see that in manufacturing, logistics and distribution and even in retail and service-oriented businesses.”
According to the report, the unemployment rate dropped from 9.9% in 2010 to 5.4% in 2018 in Luzerne County and from 9.1% in 2010 to 4.6% in 2018 in Lackawanna County. In March, the unemployment rate in the region was 4.8%.
The poverty rate has dropped from 16.4% in 2013 to 13.8% in Luzerne County and from 14.9% in 2013 to 14.5% in Lackawanna County but both counties remain higher than the state average of 12.5%.
Ooms said the largest percentage of residents in the region fall into the household income category of $50,000 to $75,000.
Higher income brackets are increasing and lower brackets are decreasing, but Ooms said one challenge remains: one in four households in Northeastern Pennsylvania brings in less than $25,000 a year.
“That is not enough to say they are earning a living wage so that becomes problematic,” she said.
The dominant industry sectors in the region are education and health care and both are predicted to grow. Retail and manufacturing making up the second and third largest job sectors in Northeast Pennsylvania, Ooms said.
“We’re finally seeing job growth outpacing population growth,” she said. “While we have noted a decrease in the number of businesses in the two-county area, there has been an increase in the number of employees so the businesses that are here are growing.”
Enrollment in career and technical centers in the region has declined 8.3 percent since 2015 and Ooms said this area needs significant improvement.
“Our trades in Northeastern Pennsylvania are not doing well in securing that next generation of workers,” she said. “If anybody has tried to secure a plumber lately, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The trades need to get elevated in priority with regard to careers in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Ooms said another trend is that everything from accounting systems to logistics is becoming automated.
Christopher Ritter, research analyst for The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, said the institute will release a report this summer which examines the impact of automation on the regional workforce in Northeast Pennsylvania, statewide and in the Northeast portion of the U.S.
“Workforce automation is fundamentally changing the nature of work, bringing with it both the threat of job displacement as well as the promise of opportunity through increased productivity,” Ritter said.
Nearly 242,000 employees across Northeast Pennsylvania work in one of 320 occupations with at least 70 percent probability of automation, he said. As a result, he said up to 49% of the region’s total workforce may not stay in their current positions.
Workers in automation-sensitive jobs include food preparation and serving, transportation and material moving, sales, production, construction and extraction, office and administrative support.
Schuylkill County is considered the most vulnerable county in Pennsylvania for automation, Ritter said.
“Among Mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania is the most vulnerable state for workforce disruption but among Rust Belt states, it’s the least,” he said.
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