On this Labor Day, the annual celebration of the achievements of American workers, Lancaster County’s economy is still struggling to replicate one of its biggest feats – being the home of more than 260,000 jobs.
Job growth in the county remained tepid in July, new state statistics show, with the number of filled positions here rising a mere 0.5% from June, leaving it well short of its pre-pandemic norm.
Lancaster County was the location of 247,400 jobs in July, putting it 14,100 jobs below the number it had in early March 2020, days before the pandemic hit later that month. That shortfall equates to a 5.4% deficit.
COVID-19’s arrival, which led the state to order widespread business closings, slashed the number of jobs here to 211,600 in April 2020. Then, as the pandemic lessened, businesses reopened and jobs rebounded in kind, surpassing 240,000 in August 2020.
But for the past year, the number of jobs has been mired in the 240,000s, noticeably below the pre-pandemic norm. The job gap persists while thousands of positions are open across the county.
“One factor is that some people are still not willing to go back to work yet,” said Lancaster resident Adam Ozimek, chief economist for Upwork, a global platform that connects freelancers and businesses looking to hire them.
“This is due to a combination of factors, including childcare responsibilities, fear of COVID and expanded unemployment compensation,” he explained.
Local economist Naomi Young, director of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County’s Center for Regional Analysis, described the July job growth as “modest,” noting it came before COVID-19’s delta variant reached its current potency.
“We are focused on the fall employment numbers to signal if the labor market can recover,” Young said.
The state Department of Labor & Industry, which issues the monthly report, defines jobs as filled nonfarm positions, either part time or full time. The number is seasonally adjusted to filter out the effect of temporary ebbs and flows caused by the business cycle.
Lancaster County’s anemic job growth is not unique. Instead, it’s identical to the statewide pace of month-over-month job growth (up 0.5%) and comparable to the national pace (0.6%), according to the state Department of Labor & Industry.
While the number of jobs in the county was slightly better than June, the county’s unemployment rate got slightly worse, rising to 4.7% in July – though second best among the state’s 18 metropolitan areas, trailing only Gettysburg’s 4.3%. The local rate had been 4.6% in June.
The rate went up because the number of unemployed people in the county increased by 300 to 13,000.
It seems odd that both the number of jobs and the number of jobless people grew, but it was made possible by an upturn in the size of the labor force (the number of people either working or actively looking for work). It rose by 400 to 276,500.
But, as Ozimek noted, many countians remain on the sidelines. The size of Lancaster County’s labor force in early March 2020, prior to COVID-19’s arrival, was 286,500 – or 10,000 more than now, according to state statistics.
Taking a closer look at how employment here is recovering, consider the number of jobs in each of the county’s 10 economic sectors. Only two – construction and financial activities – have equaled or surpassed their pre-pandemic levels. The leisure-and-hospitality sector remains the hardest hit.
Here’s a breakdown by sector. The first figure is the number of jobs in that category in July 2021, followed by the one-year change from July 2020 (when the recovery was in its early months), followed by the two-year change from June 2019 (before the pandemic).
Construction, mining and logging: 19,300 – up 900 from July 2020 and up 400 from July 2019.
Education and health services (includes colleges, business schools, trade schools, public schools, hospitals, doctors’ offices, retirement communities, rehabilitation facilities, mental health providers, childcare centers, child and youth service providers): 44,100 – down 500 from July 2020 and down 1,800 from July 2019.
Financial activities (includes banking, lending, insurance, leasing, real estate): 9,700 – up 200 from July 2020 and up 400 from July 2019.
Government (includes federal, state and local): 17,400 – down 100 from July 2020 and down 400 from July 2019.
Information (includes publishers of newspapers, books, periodicals, software; broadcasters; telecom firms; recording studios): 2,300 – down 100 from July 2020 and down 400 from July 2019.
Leisure and hospitality (hotels, restaurants, bars, food service, dinner theaters, museums, amusement parks, performing arts companies and independent writers, artists and performers): 23,600 – up 4,100 from July 2020 but down 4,000 from July 2019.
Within the leisure and hospitality sector is the subsector of food services and drinking places (bars, restaurants, caterers, dining halls, school and workplace cafeterias): 14,700 – up 1,100 from July 2020 but down 2,900 from July 2019.
Manufacturing: 36,400 – up 1,400 from July 2020 but down 1,000 from July 2019.
Other services (repair and maintenance of cars, appliances, electronic equipment etc., barber shops, nail salons, beauty salons, funeral homes, laundries): 12,200 – up 1,000 from July 2020 but down 500 from July 2019.
Professional and business services (includes lawyers, accountants, engineers, computer services, consultants, researchers): 25,800 – up 1,600 from July 2020 but down 800 from July 2020.
Trade, transportation and utilities (includes rail and air transportation, freight trucking, school and charter buses, pipelines, retail trade, wholesale trade, warehousing and utilities): 58,100 – up 1,900 from July 2020 but down 1,800 from July 2019.
Within the trade, transportation and utilities sector is the subsector of retail trade: 28,500 – up 300 from July 2020 but down 1,100 from July 2019.