Pennsylvania employment rate rising

    Pennsylvania’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is at its lowest level in 20 months.

    The figure dropped to 8.2 percent in January–about double what it was when the recession began in 2007. Unemployment had held steady at 8.5 percent since September, and peaked at 8.8 percent in the first four months of 2010.

    Mark Price, an economist with the left-leaning Keystone Research Center, said he’s encouraged by the news.

    “It’s a good number, and it’s a clear sign that the economy is on the path that we’re all expecting it to be, which is recovery,” he said. “The one downside, of course, though, is that because the recession was so deep, it’s going to take a long time to get back to full employment.”

    The commonwealth gained 6,000 nonfarm jobs in the first month of the year.

    The data comes a few days after another indication the economy is steadying: state revenue figures remain ahead of projections, despite lower-than-expected February returns. Eight months into the fiscal year, the state is $243 million above its expected revenue totals. That’s about the size of the deficit Pennsylvania faced this time last year, and is miles ahead of March 2009’s $1.3 billion shortfall.

    Still, Price said he’s worried the economy could turn south again, citing two factors.

    “One: we see rising gas prices. Which is a threat to the overall state of the economy, if that continues for another few months that could slow things. And on top of that, in addition to the federal cuts that are being discussed, we also have rounds of cutbacks in state and local governments,” said Price. “Not just here in Pennsylvania, but also throughout the country.”

    He warned budget cuts will lead to public sector layoffs, and cause slowdowns in pockets of the economy that rely on federal and state support.

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