In March 2010, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania peaked at 8.7 percent. Now, just under four years later, the rate has fallen below 7 percent, to 6.9 percent, for the first time in five years.
The rate, based on figures from December, comes as part of a gradual decrease in the commonwealth’s unemployment rate since August. In August, the rate increased for the first time since January 2013, when the rate was at 8.2 percent.
Although the decrease is minimal, four-tenths of a percent, it is the largest decrease in the unemployment rate in nearly three decades, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.
Although the governor’s office did not specifically weigh in on the decrease in the unemployment rate, Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign spokesman, Billy Pitman, called the decrease a sign of Corbett keeping his promises.
“Gov. Corbett is keeping his promises, holding the line on new taxes, restoring fiscal sanity and putting Pennsylvanians back to work,” Pitman said.
“As our economy continues to grow, more jobs are created, and unemployment continues to fall, Gov. Corbett is committed to making the right decisions to keep moving Pennsylvania forward.”
According to the data, the number of individuals seeking work in the commonwealth is 443,273 — down more than 25,000 people.
Comparatively, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is still above the national average, which is 6.7 percent. Pennsylvania is now ranked 31st in the nation in total job growth, tied with Indiana and North Carolina.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment figures are preliminary and will be finalized sometime within the next month.
The numbers were released just days before President Barack Obama visited the commonwealth after his annual State of the Union address.
In his address, Obama lauded the entire country for the lowest unemployment rate in five years, signaling, what he referred to, as an end to the “Great Recession.”
“Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong,” Obama said. “And here are the results of your efforts: the lowest unemployment rate in over five years.”
Also in the address, Obama referenced the recent uptick in manufacturing jobs in the country, the first time that the manufacturing sector has added jobs since the 1990s.
Obama echoed his sentiments during a Wednesday visit to the U.S. Steel Plant in West Mifflin.
“Because of your efforts, businesses like U.S. Steel have created 8 million new jobs over the past four years, with 9,000 new jobs in the steel industry alone,” Obama said. “Manufacturing is adding jobs, not shrinking jobs for the first time since the 1990s.”
Obama’s speech, and the decrease in Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate, come after Congress allowed federally supported unemployment insurance to go unfunded in the new year.
“I’m also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy,” Obama said during the State of the Union.
“But first, this Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people.”
In Pennsylvania, 86,900 people lost unemployment benefits due to Congress’ inaction, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In response to Obama’s visit, Megan Sweeney, communications director for the Pa. GOP said that the president’s “year of action” would only inspire his opposition, rather than be successful in raising awareness and support for his State of the Union goals.
“[President Obama] is so out of touch that he doesn’t realize that is a call to action to everyone single one of us who oppose his failed economic policies, his job killing taxes and Obamacare,” Sweeney said. “We will continue to stand up for low taxes, smaller government, and commonsense solutions that grow our economy and create jobs.”
Obama’s visit to U.S. Steel was just one stop on a four-city tour that also included stops in Landham, Md.; Waukesha, Wis.; and Nashville, Tenn. The tour is designed to promote the agenda Obama set forth in the State of the Union address.