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Lehigh Valley has Best Post-Recession Job Growth of Any Major Pennsylvania Region

By Colin McEvoy on March 31, 2015

The Lehigh Valley has a greater percentage of jobs compared to its post-recession levels than any other region in Pennsylvania with a population above 200,000.

The Lehigh Valley has a greater percentage of jobs compared to its post-recession levels than any other region in Pennsylvania with a population above 200,000.

No major region in Pennsylvania has experienced greater post-recession job growth than the Lehigh Valley.

While most metropolitan areas in the state have less jobs today than they did before the Great Recession began, the Lehigh Valley has nearly 3 percent more jobs, the highest increase of any major Pennsylvania region.

In addition, the Lehigh Valley weathered the recession better, and recovered from it faster, than any region in the state with a population above 200,000 other than Pittsburgh, according to an analysis by the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

“This analysis confirms what we thought to be true: the Lehigh Valley has launched out of the recession with more development and job creation than any other region in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” said Don Cunningham, LVEDC president and CEO.

State leader in job growth

The Lehigh Valley had 355,300 total seasonally-adjusted nonfarm jobs in the first quarter of 2015, which is 2.81 percent higher than the 345,600 jobs it had in December 2007, when the Great Recession began. No other major metropolitan area in Pennsylvania has reached such a high level.

The closest is Pittsburgh, which currently has 1.80 percent more nonfarm jobs than before the recession, a full percentage point behind the Lehigh Valley. They are followed by Lancaster (1.10 percent) and Reading (0.59 percent).

Unlike the Lehigh Valley, other Pennsylvania regions still haven’t fully recovered from the Great Recession. The Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington area has 0.48 percent fewer jobs than in December 2007, while Erie has 1.83 percent fewer jobs and York-Hanover has 2.19 percent fewer jobs.

The Lehigh Valley also recovered from the recession far faster than most other major metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the state, according to the analysis. The region returned to post-recession job levels in fourth quarter of 2012, nearly a full year before any other region recovered besides Pittsburgh.

Weathering the storm

Even at its worst moments during the Great Recession, the Lehigh Valley fared better than most in the state. It reached its lowest point during the fourth quarter of 2009 with 332,033 jobs, which was 3.93 percent lower than December 2007 levels, according to the LVEDC analysis.

But that’s higher than any other major Pennsylvania region’s lowest point other than Pittsburgh, which was 3.18 percent below pre-recession levels. For example, Philadelphia reached as low as 4.87 percent, Lancaster dropped to 5.71 percent, and York-Hanover bottomed out at 6.33 percent. The average low point across the state was 4.16 percent below the amount of jobs in December 2007.

“Research and data analysis is one of the key new functions we’ve added to our operation at LVEDC,” Cunningham said. “It’s very critical for a region to know thyself and to build strategic plans based on facts, data and information. It also provides some interesting context for us as we begin to peel back the layers of the onion.”

The LVEDC analysis accounts for all Pennsylvania MSAs with a population of 200,000 or higher, as well as the state average. This comprises nine regions: the Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg-Carlisle, Lancaster, Reading, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and York.

Exceeding state averages

The analysis begins with a baseline of total nonfarm jobs in December 2007, and measures changes in jobs using a percentage, rather than job figures, so that a valid comparison between regions with different population sizes can be reached, according to LVEDC research specialist John Lamirand.

The statewide average in total seasonally-adjusted nonfarm jobs did not reach the same level as December 2007 until the first quarter of 2015, according to the analysis. That is 27 months after the Lehigh Valley had already reached that level, Lamirand said.

According to a study by the Brookings Institution released in January, the Lehigh Valley was one of only 32 out of 80 United States metropolitan areas with equal or higher GDP per capita and employment in comparison to 2007 levels.

That study accounted for the world’s 300 largest major metropolitan areas by population. Of the four Pennsylvania regions measured, the Lehigh Valley and Pittsburgh were considered to have fully recovered from the recession, while Philadelphia and Harrisburg were not recovered.

This analysis uses Current Employment Statistics data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lamirand said.


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