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The Harrisburg-Carlisle metro area’s unemployment rate continued to drop into the new year, according to federal data released Friday, with the tri-county area adding to its labor force over the prior year, even as unemployment dipped to 3.4 percent.

The continued labor crunch comes as local officials discuss the shortage of skilled blue-collar labor in the Cumberland County area, and wage data continues to show a sharp divergence in pay.

The metro region, which includes Cumberland, Perry and Dauphin counties, had a labor force of 295,615 workers in January 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of which 10,075 were not employed.

In January 2018, that labor force was 292,217, with 12,356 people unemployed, according to the BLS.

A narrower labor market should be accelerating wage growth, and it has, broadly. Average weekly wages for Cumberland County in the third quarter of 2018 were up about 2.6 percent, inflation adjusted, from the third quarter of 2017, according to BLS data.

But the county’s strongest growth industries, particularly warehousing, have seen pay drop over the long term.

Average annual earnings in the warehousing sector in Cumberland County were $41,040 in 2017, according to the BLS, versus $44,348 in 2007. With inflation included, this is a drop of 21 percent.

A 2017 Brookings Institution study identified the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro area as one of the hardest hit by income divergence from 2010 to 2015.

While average earnings increased, median earnings declined 1.6 percent, and the number of workers earning less than half the median grew 5.3 percent, Brookings found, indicating that the post-2009 economic recovery has been far worse for those who were already at the lower end of the pay scale.

The reverberations of this have also been seen in the area’s housing market.

A recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that the Harrisburg-Carlisle metro area has also seen a worsening of its housing situation for lower-income families.

During the 2012-16 data collection period, 66 percent of families in the region who made 80 percent or less of the median income were paying over 30 percent of their income in rent. In the 2007-11 period, this number was only 61 percent.

The gap between affordable rent and actual rent for this group is now at $190 per month, the Philadelphia Fed found.

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Email Zack at zhoopes@cumberlink.com.

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Cumberland County/Investigative Reporter

Reporter for The Sentinel.