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New jobs data not all it seems for Pittsburgh unemployed

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The recent unemployment picture for both the Pittsburgh Metro gegion and nationally may not paint as rosy a picture as the new jobs numbers might indicate, upon closer examination. While the unemployment rate has dropped to a five-year low nationally and is relatively strong in southwestern Pennsylvania, individuals seeking work still face significant, historic challenges.

As Doug Heuck--creator of website Pittsburgh Today's Benchmarks series--reported on KDKA's P-G Sunday Edition news program, the unemployment rate for Pittsburgh stands at 6.6 percent for December. This places Pittsburgh sixth out of 12 cities of similar size and economic characteristics and represents a sizable drop from 7.3 percent for the same month in 2012. The new national unemployment rate released Friday is 6.7 percent--according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics-- which is the lowest rate since 2008.

The lower national and local unemployment rates--while an encouraging sign in general--are the result of a shrinking labor force, as well as an uptick in new hiring. The labor participation rate is at its lowest level in 36 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and is largely the result of discouraged job seekers leaving the job market and giving up on the job search--a sobering but growing, reality, needless to say.

While the decreased jobless rate for December gives reason for optimism to many undaunted job seekers, the jobless numbers released last week were enough to take the shine off much of the previous upbeat jobs news. The U.S. economy added only 74,000 jobs for the week ending January 10--marking the lowest weekly total in three years.

On the bright side, job openings are at a five-year high, and job gains nationally have exceeded 220,000 for five straight months. Most of the job gains have been in lower-wage, service-oriented jobs, though--both locally and nationally. These jobs often lack the benefits and other perks of more career-focused positions, though.

One positive trend to note for optimistic job seekers is the seemingly growing recognition of the serious challenges facing the long-term unemployed. Much political discourse has centered on the issue of late, and the problem seems to be gaining awareness among politicians and the media. Businesses are typically reluctant to hire individuals who have been out of work for months and, in too many cases, even years.

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