Lehigh Valley Employment Fully Recovered, June Jobs Report Shows

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on August 2, 2022

An employee at B Braun Medical, one of four companies that will participate in a panel discussion at the "Manufacturing Momentum in Bethlehem" event.

B Braun Medical, which has its U.S. operations headquartered in Bethlehem, is undergoing a 310,000-square-foot expansion and plans to hire another 250 people in the Lehigh Valley over the next several years. It currently employs about 2,000 locally.

Employment in the Lehigh Valley metro region reached an all-time high of 384,900 in June, indicating a full recovery of the jobs lost two years ago when the pandemic disrupted the economy, the latest federal data shows.

After a few months of stagnation, 1,500 jobs were added in the metro region since May, according to preliminary estimates of nonfarm payroll jobs reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Lehigh Valley was among six of the state’s 18 metro regions to add more than 1,000 jobs in June.

The Lehigh Valley metro region includes Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Warren counties.

Eight of ten supersectors in the Lehigh Valley were either essentially unchanged or grew from May levels. Mining, logging, and construction and leisure and hospitality experienced seasonal increases, while the summer break for schools drove down educational services, according to the Center for Workforce & Information Analysis.

Here’s a nuanced look at how employment bounced back during the pandemic in the Lehigh Valley:

The Recovery

Employment in the Lehigh Valley metro region in June exceeded pre-pandemic levels, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Lehigh Valley lost 76,200 jobs since April 2020 when unemployment peaked amid the business closures aimed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 and the subsequent global supply chain challenges.

As restrictions lifted, Lehigh Valley businesses went back to work, many supplying the nation with medical equipment, food, beverages and other essential items. Lehigh Valley’s location in the heart of the Northeast market made it a critical location for moving goods through the country.

By the end of 2020, the Lehigh Valley’s manufacturing sector ranked among the 50 largest in the nation. By the end of 2021, the number of manufacturing jobs was fully recovered, and the Lehigh Valley was leading Pennsylvania’s job recovery.

Job growth stalled this spring at 383,300, about 1,000 fewer jobs than February 2020. That changed in June when jobs picked up in a meaningful way. Preliminary data now puts employment at 600 jobs higher than it was in February 2020.

While overall employment now has recovered, not all sectors have rebounded at the same rate. Employment in the hospitality sector is still below what it was at the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s made some strides in recent months.

Those losses are blunted by the increase in employment for the new retail – e-commerce — amid social distancing protocols and the demand for online shopping.

Manufacturing, which took an initial hit due to the in-person nature of the industry, was among the first sectors to recover and now exceeds what it was before the pandemic. Non-durable goods, like medical supplies and food processing, were among the segments of the sector to bounce back faster in the region.

The Lehigh Valley has a high concentration of both those industry sectors. Home to B. Braun and Olympus of the Americas, the Lehigh Valley has an employment concentration of medical instrument manufacturers five times larger than the typical U.S. region. It also has a rich cluster of of food and beverage producers such as Bimbo Bakeries, Just Born, Keurig Dr. Pepper and Freshpet.

National Trends

Nationally, employment growth exceeded many economists’ expectations in June, an encouraging indicator in a month where inflation reached a 40-year high. Payroll jobs in June grew to 151.98, a robust gain of 372,000 jobs over May. There was notable job growth in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and health care sectors. Employment industrywide is still about 524,000 down from February 2020, but private sector employment had full recovered.

Pennsylvania’s employment grew to 5.95 million in June, up by 21,200. Employment increased in seven of the 11 industry supersectors, with the largest gains – 8,300 — in education and health services. Employment is  145,700 less than before the pandemic.

Over the year, jobs rose statewide by 3.7% and 4.6% in the Lehigh Valley.







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