Job growth in Lancaster County continued to flatline in May, a new state report shows, but a labor market expert here believes the stagnant situation is temporary.

The number of nonfarm jobs in Lancaster County stayed at 245,400, identical to April’s number and virtually the same as March’s 246,400, according to a state Department of Labor & Industry report released Tuesday.

That May figure is 16,100 jobs shy of the size of the county workforce before the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020: 261,500 jobs. That shortfall comes despite county employers having literally thousands of unfilled job openings, an issue that has persisted for months.

Adam Ozimek, chief economist for Upwork, blamed the lack of job growth on constraints such as federal unemployment benefits that can make staying jobless pay more than taking a job, fears of contracting COVID-19 at a workplace or caregiving/parenting responsibilities.

These restrictions on the supply of labor, he said, “aren't helpful, but they should ease this fall at the latest. I would not worry about the recovery stalling, but I do think this is a rockier path than is desirable.”

The extra federal unemployment benefit of $300 a week, on top of state jobless benefits, is set to run out in September. Schools, senior centers and child-care centers are expected to be open in person full time, barring a new surge in COVID-19 cases.

For some encouraging indicators of a recovery, look at the demand side, said Ozimek, a Lancaster resident who previously worked for Moody’s Analytics before joining Upwork, an online platform that connects freelancers and businesses looking to hire them.

“The demand side continues to bounce back however, as shown by rising prices and growing demand for in-person services,” he pointed out.

The May report offers the latest gauge of how severely the labor market here has been battered by 15 months of economic upheaval.

After the pandemic arrived, the number of nonfarm jobs here plunged to 211,600 in April 2020, then slowly began to rebound, reaching 240,000 in August. It’s been stuck in the 240,000s since.

However, the unemployment rate has continued to improve. After the collapse in nonfarm jobs pushed the rate up to 15.2% in April 2020, the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930s, the rate has steadily dropped. In May, it dipped to 4.7% from April’s 5.3%.

The May mark, the lowest since the pandemic began, reflected a decrease in the number of unemployed county residents, which slid by 1,700 to 13,000. That trend nearly matched a decline in size of the county labor force – the number of countians who have jobs plus the number of people who are jobless but want to work. It fell by 1,800 to 276,900.

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