by Anthony Hennen
Comparing urban areas across America, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have struggled to recover since the pandemic, showing lackluster economic performance with job levels still below pre-pandemic times.
That performance puts Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities about average in America, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institution on urban economic recovery since COVID-19.
“Most of the nation’s largest metro areas still fall somewhat short of their pre-pandemic job totals,” Alan Berube and Eli Byerly-Duke, both of Brookings Metro, wrote. “Of 191 U.S. metro areas with populations of at least a quarter million, 121 (63%) had fewer jobs in March 2022 than in February 2020.”
Philadelphia remains 2.5% below its numbers of jobs before the pandemic, and Pittsburgh is down 5.1%. However, job postings are up 5.9% in Philadelphia and 30.4% in Pittsburgh. Median multifamily rents are up 16.6% in Philadelphia and 8.7% in Pittsburgh.
Job postings staying high while employment has dropped can be a reflection of a lack of growth for a city, more retirements, or workers unable to return to the workforce due to family obligations or a lack of skills.
Other Pennsylvania cities, such as Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Scranton, Erie, Reading, and York have done slightly better, but none present an image of economic recovery.
The problem confronting Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is the problem confronting all of Pennsylvania’s cities: a shrinking state population and economic growth that lags behind other regions of America like the South and the West.
“The two years since COVID-19’s onset do not appear to have fundamentally altered the long-standing uphill battle for growth and prosperity in much of the nation’s heartland, Berube and Byerly-Duke wrote. “Many of the same metro areas that were growing slowly before the pandemic – in regions such as the Great Lakes, Appalachia and the Piedmont, and the older industrial Northeast – continue to do so today. Their unemployment rates remain low mainly because they are losing working-age residents. Their downtowns, many of which were beginning to show new signs of life just before the pandemic, confront a difficult road ahead.”
The pandemic didn’t cause a drastic change in the economy so much as accelerated or enhanced existing problems. As The Center Square has previously reported, people and wealth continue to leave the commonwealth, city tax burdens can be high, and labor shortages have driven a sense of economic malaise. Rising housing costs also make it harder for young or less-wealthy people to find their footing in Pennsylvania.
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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.