Online Job Ads Provide Peek Into Lehigh Valley’s Economy During COVID-19 Pandemic
By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on April 28, 2020
Supermarkets are hiring cashiers. Fast food restaurants want a larger kitchen crew. Online retailers need more workers in their distribution hubs. And nurses, technicians and other medical professionals are being sought by Lehigh Valley’s major health networks.
Those are among 20,298 online advertisements that were active in the last 30 days for jobs on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Lehigh Valley.
The talent search highlights the prominence of essential businesses such as hospitals, manufacturers and fulfillment centers in Lehigh Valley even as unemployment claims reach historic levels.
“These businesses helped put Lehigh Valley among the top five regions for development in the Northeast before the pandemic,” said Don Cunningham, President & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. (LVEDC). “So to some extent, the large presence of essential businesses here is helping to stabilize the regional economy during this period of business disruption and may position it to recover faster.”
Online job ads can provide real-time insight into what employers are thinking about their business prospects and act as a surrogate when other indicators, such as unemployment rates, are months away from being released, he said.
A review of the ads in Lehigh Valley reflect the economic turbulence that took hold since mid-March when Pennsylvania’s non-life-sustaining companies shut down in-person business in response to the public health threat. The number of new job ads tumbled from a high of 1,708 during the week of Feb. 28 to March 5 to 828 during the week of April 10-16, according to Chmura Economics JobsEQ Platform.
Recent online ads offer some encouraging signs. Last week, employers posted 1,131 new ads – the first time that metric broke a 1,000 since the pandemic hit.
In the last 30 days, the most active online ads – 995 — were for retail salespeople at discount stores, drug stores, convenience stores, supermarkets and other retail businesses that remain open to provide essential products. That was followed by 684 ads for laborers and freight, stockers and material movers the in distribution and warehousing operations that support online shopping, which has become more prevalent because of the pandemic. There were 645 ads for food preparation and serving workers, and 579 for registered nurses.
Nearly 9,000 of the active posts in the last 30 days were for full-time jobs. Many jobs – 5,730 – required just a high school diploma, and another 2,358 a bachelor’s degree.
Of those seeking special training, the top education programs required for the jobs were in business, engineering, nursing and computer science. The programs are required for open positions like accountants, project managers, hospice caregivers and software engineers.
Online job ads provide just one dimension of a more complicated portrait of the economy. In February, the local economy was strong with an unemployment rate of 4.5% or 16,000 people. The unemployment rate increased to 5.8% in March, according to preliminary statistics released this week by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. However, that number could significantly increase in April.
Since mid-March, another 37,000 unemployment claims were filed in Lehigh Valley, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The number of new claims continue but at a slower rate.
The federal government has launched unprecedented aid and loan programs to protect individual paychecks and businesses until the full economy is running again, and Pennsylvania launched its own working capital loan program. The LVEDC submitted 26 applications, totaling $2.4 million, for local businesses before the state closed the window on the applications.
Meanwhile, businesses are seeking creative ways to work remotely, and all construction companies can resume in-person business May 1. Golf courses and other outdoor recreation areas are also allowed to open May 1 if certain procedures are implemented. Starting May 8, the state government will be assessing whether to lower restrictions for some municipalities.
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