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Region Added 1,200 Jobs in February

Lehigh Valley unemployment rate drops to 8.7 percent, the lowest since May 2009.

The Lehigh Valley region added 1,200 jobs in February as the unemployment rate inched down to 8.7 percent.

That’s the lowest jobless rate since May 2009 when it was 8.6 percent, according to Steven Zellers, state Department of Labor & Industry analyst. Over the past year, the region has added 1,800 jobs, which is not a huge gain but is moving in the right direction, he said.

“There’s a lot of positives in this but it’s not something you hire a band and shoot off fireworks for,” Zellers said.

The increase of 1,200 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs in February brought the total number of jobs to 334,100 in the region. For statistical purposes, the state Labor Department groups together the counties of Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Warren County, N.J. in one region.

Lehigh County’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.6 percent in February from 8.7 percent in January. Northampton County’s jobless rate was 8.5 percent in February, down from 8.7 percent the previous month.

Transportation and warehousing appear to be contributing most to the local economic recovery, adding 1,200 jobs since February 2010. That’s partly a function of the Valley’s attractiveness as a crossroads thanks to Interstates 78, 476 and other thoroughfares, Zellers said.

Mining, logging and construction industries were down 300 jobs for February but that’s to be expected in the winter, he said. That sector has netted a total of 600 jobs since February 2010. Retail employment decreased by 1,000 jobs in February but that’s also normal after the seasonal hiring for the holidays, Zellers said.

Government has seen the largest decrease in employment since last year, with 1,600 fewer jobs in federal, state and local governments since February 2010.

“Government compared to the private sector has gone down partly because of the budget cuts,” Zellers said.

Earlier in the year, labor analysts were saying that the improving unemployment figures were somewhat deceiving because there were fewer people counted in the workforce as job-seekers got discouraged and stopped looking for work.

“People could have moved out of the area permanently or they could have dropped out of the labor force to go to school,” Zellers said.

The labor force is still smaller than it was a year ago but 2,400 more residents from the region are employed, including people who are self-employed and those who commute outside the area to work, according to the data.

The Lehigh Valley region’s rate of 8.7 percent unemployment is higher than the state average of 8 percent but lower than the national rate of 8.9 percent.

The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but employment typically lags other economic indicators, such as consumer spending and gross domestic product.

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