Pittsburgh skyline
Photo by Tracy Certo.

The Pittsburgh metro region lost 202,300 jobs between February and April because of the coronavirus pandemic but regained more than half of those jobs by the end of July, according to a new report from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

The employment rebound of 107,500 jobs, or 53.1 percent of those that had been lost, was largely in the leisure and hospitality, construction, retail, and health care and social assistance sectors, the Allegheny Conference says in its Pittsburgh Region Employment Update.

Those industries accounted for 91 percent of the jobs regained since May but represented just 67 percent of the jobs lost this spring.

“I think we’re very encouraged by how much we have regained from the February to April decline,” says Jim Futrell, vice president of market research for the Allegheny Conference. “We went into this with a pretty solid construction backlog going on, so initially (the rebound) was really driven by the construction sector getting back to work.”

Only Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit and Indianapolis regained a higher percentage of jobs, although five regions — Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Seattle — gained more jobs on an absolute basis, according to the research.

Financial activity in Pittsburgh has been “doing pretty well,” says Futrell, especially because large banks such as PNC and BNY Mellon were able to maintain their employment base by transferring mostly to a remote work environment.

But the imposition of new restrictions on bars and restaurants in July halted the rebound in restaurant employment. It’s slowly starting to pick up again.

“I think what helps us is our concentration in profession services, financial services, education and health care — those are industries that are rebounding quicker and that will help stabilize the economy,” says Futrell. “What’s going to be the big challenge nationwide is the leisure and hospitality segment and how fast the tourism segment rebounds.”

The report cautions that Pittsburgh’s economic turnaround will be slow, in part because of continued losses in government and educational services. State and municipal revenues continue to decline and that “will likely offset some of the gains,” the report says.

Education was disproportionately impacted, compared to the U.S. overall, “because it accounts for higher employment here than the country as a whole,” Futrell says. As school resumes, that too will begin to rebound, he predicts.

The unemployment rate in Southwestern Pennsylvania dropped at a faster pace than the state overall, but the national rate dropped much faster than the Pittsburgh region or the state. The region’s unemployment rate was 12.5 percent in June, the latest month available, compared with 13 percent for Pennsylvania and 11 percent for the nation.

The Allegheny Conference has been producing webinars on the Pittsburgh region’s response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest one, from August 27, discusses five priorities to help reopen and reinvent your business. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development also lists COVID-19 resources for businesses, communities and local governments.

All in all, says Futrell, there’s reason for optimism now.

“It was a pretty good July,” says Futrell. “We’re kind of stabilized where we are but there are still, unfortunately, a lot of people who lost their jobs and we can’t forget about that.”

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.