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Local unemployment data for March 2018, released this month by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, show the Midstate with unemployment below the national average – although a significant part of this drop is due to a decrease in the labor force.

Unemployment for the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro region – which is defined by the BLS as Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry counties – stood at 3.8 percent in March 2018, versus 4.3 percent at the same time last year.

However, the metro region’s total workforce – consisting of people who are either currently working, or actively looking for work – declined by over 5,000 people, from 294,587 in March 2017 to 289,249 in March 2018.

Pennsylvania as a whole lost about 130,000 people from its labor pool from March 2017 to March 2018. The downward trend has been blamed on a number of factors, but most importantly rising elder and child care costs, which have presumably forced more potential worker to stay at home and provide care.

Compounding this, specifically for Cumberland County, is the fact that a large number of new jobs that have come into the area since the recession have been relatively low-paying, decreasing the relative value of being in the labor pool versus the cost of child or elder care.

In 2009, there were 5,462 jobs classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics under the 493 series, which represents warehousing. As of 2016, there were 9,111. Over same time period, unemployment in the county dropped from 6.6 percent to 4.1 percent.

However, average annual wages for 493-series jobs also took a steep dive during the period, from $47,634 in 2009 to $39,659 in 2016, not adjusting for inflation. Adjusted to the consumer price index, this is a drop of almost 26 percent.

A Brookings Institution study last year found that the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro area had one of the worst experiences out of 100 US census divisions in terms of wage inequality from 2010-2015. Median wages dropped 1.6 percent, and the number of Midstate residents earning less than half that median grew 5.3 percent.

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Cumberland County/Investigative Reporter

Reporter for The Sentinel.