Job Numbers in Allegheny County: Who is Right?

"At a time when the entire country is struggling, Allegheny County is performing better (in employment) than the state and the nation". This quote is attributed to the spokesperson for the gubernatorial campaign for the current Chief Executive of Allegheny County. Other gubernatorial candidates have questioned the job numbers cited in the Chief Executive’s campaign ads.

Though it is impossible to determine from the quote which exact metric (unemployment rate, number of Allegheny County residents employed, number of jobs in Allegheny County) or time frame (since 2000, since 2008, since 2009) it is clear that the intent of the statement is to say that Allegheny County is doing better than the rest of PA and the U.S. Is that true?

Let’s look at the period since January 2004, when the Chief Exec took office, to January 2008, pre-recession. Overall unemployment rate in the County fell 1.1 percentage points from 6% to 4.9%; private job count in Allegheny County went up 0.3% (from 600.8k to 602.9k); and Allegheny County residents holding jobs rose 1.8% (from 599k to 610k).

How does this compare to the state as a whole? Statewide the unemployment fell 1 percentage point, a tenth of a point less than the County’s change (and probably not statistically significant); the private job count went up 4.5%, and the Pennsylvanians holding jobs grew 4.2%. On both the establishment and the household counts the state bested the County’s rate by 3 percentage points.

So, it is a huge stretch to claim that Allegheny County has outperformed the state and the nation, especially over the period since the current Executive took the reins. If the reference is to the recent unemployment rate, that is a very misleading statistic because of different rates of labor force growth in the state, county and nation. Slow or non-existent labor force growth can hold unemployment rates down even when the number of jobholders is not growing.