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Lehigh Valley’s Unemployment Rate Falls Below State and National Rates

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on January 5, 2021

Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate in November dropped to 6.5%, slightly below the state and national rates.

Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate in November dipped for the fifth straight month to 6.5%, a hair below Pennsylvania’s rate of 6.6% and the U.S. rate of 6.7%, new labor data show.

The rate for Lehigh and Northampton counties had risen above both averages earlier in the pandemic when unemployment peaked at 16.6%. While employment in many sectors continues to bounce back, the region’s unemployment rate is still 1.7% higher than November 2019, according to the preliminary, seasonally-adjusted data released Jan. 5.

Lehigh Valley is not alone. November’s jobless rates were higher year over year in every state as employers continued to grapple with the business disruptions caused by COVID-19. Unemployment rates in three states – tourist destinations of Hawaii, Nevada and New Jersey – topped 10%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate was based on a labor force of 348,200, about 1,300 more than October. That is still lower than the pre-pandemic labor force, suggesting some continue to sit on the sidelines during the public health crisis that sent the otherwise healthy economy into a recession earlier this year.

“It is positive news that Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate continues to recover, but the recovery has not been linear nor equal among all industries and regions,” said George Lewis, Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research. “We continue to track the data, which has changed as recently as the last few weeks and is not reflected in the November numbers.”

During November, jobs in the metropolitan region that includes Lehigh Valley increased or stayed the same in seven of 10 major industrial sectors tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The metropolitan region, as defined by the federal government, includes Northampton, Lehigh, Warren and Carbon counties.

The region has gained back 70% of the jobs lost since unemployment hit a historic high in April. Many of the job gains were in health care, which is critical in fighting COVID-19, and logistics, the linchpin of e-commerce’s rising popularity in the face of social distancing measures. Manufacturing also added 400 jobs in November, bringing the total to 37,700.

The hospitality industry, among the hardest hit by social distancing restrictions, added 700 jobs in November, bringing the total number of jobs to 27,700. That’s still more than 25% less than what it was November 2019.

Lewis noted that November’s job gains in the hospitality industry happened before the state’s three-week shutdown of indoor dining and other restrictions in response to rising COVID-19 cases in December, a historically busy and profitable time for restaurants.

The number of new unemployment claims rose in December, according to Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry data tracked by LVEDC. For the week ending Dec. 19, 36.3% of those receiving unemployment benefits in Lehigh Valley had worked in the hospitality industry.

Younger workers have been hit harder by the slowdown. The LVEDC’s analysis of state data shows that those under 35 made up 40% of those receiving unemployment benefits in Lehigh Valley as of the week ending Dec. 12 . Women also are disproportionately affected, comprising 57.6% of the claims during that same time period.

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$41.2 Billion

2018 Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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10.6% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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Air Products
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$65,119

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
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672,907

Population

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Olympus
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358,000

Labor Force

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Lutron Electronics
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26.1% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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$7.3 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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BB&T
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Seedcopa
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10,754 degrees awarded by Lehigh Valley colleges (2017-18 academic year)

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Fuling
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85,000 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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