Just days after Gov. Tom Wolf’s appearance at a White House celebration of the Biden administration’s economic policy, a new report shows Pennsylvania has one of the worst-performing job markets in the U.S.
According to the Commonwealth Foundation, a free market think tank, the Keystone State has the 8th highest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.2 percent, compared to the 3.7 percent national average. Only Delaware, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Alaska, New York, and Illinois have higher jobless rates.
In addition, some 110,000 Pennsylvanians dropped out of the labor force between Jan. 2020 and Aug. 2022, the Commonwealth report said. And the state lost 108,000 payroll jobs since Feb. 2020, a whopping 189 percent decline.
“Gov. Wolf must be disappointed,” said Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield, the report’s author. “He recently attended President Biden’s celebration of a massive government spending bill that was misleadingly labeled an inflation-reducing bill. Unfortunately, there’s little to celebrate.
“These numbers must be a wake-up call for Pennsylvania and national lawmakers,” he said.
And, Benefield noted, the same day the White House was touting the s0-called “Inflation Reduction Act,” Consumer Price Index showed prices have risen 8.3 percent since last August. Food prices alone surged 11.4 percent year over year, the largest 12-month increase since May 1979. And the CPI for the Delaware Valley showed an 8.1 percent year-over-year increase as well.
“It’s not going away anytime soon,” Benefield added.
The Democrat and Republican candidates vying to succeed Wolf, who is in his last year in office, commented on the report.
“Josh Shapiro knows Pennsylvanians are worried right now, and he has a concrete plan to reignite our economy, spur innovation and job creation, and reduce costs for Pennsylvanians. As governor, Josh will reduce taxes, cut burdensome red tape, invest in our workforce, and put money back in Pennsylvanians’ pockets,” said a Shapiro for Pennsylvania spokesperson.
Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s campaign spokesman said, “The recent report from the Commonwealth Foundation only underscores what most Pennsylvanians already know — Pennsylvania’s Democrat leadership has destroyed our economy and continues to pursue a radical policy agenda that will make things worse for everyone. These facts are what Doug Mastriano’s opponent, Josh Shapiro, is hiding from. He wants to embrace the policies that produce such devastating results for working families in Pennsylvania. This election is our opportunity to make a change and save the commonwealth by electing Doug Mastriano governor.”
Benefield told the DVJournal there are various reasons people have not returned to the workforce, including generous unemployment benefits, stimulus checks, and homeschooling children.
“Pennsylvania has historically been a slower growth state,” said Benefield. “Partly because of our high tax burden and regulatory burden and business climate. So it’s not terribly shocking to see it lagging the rest of the country in some of these indicators.”
“It really is about economic freedom, the differences among states,” he said. States that did not lockdown their citizens as harshly as Pennsylvania did during the pandemic have recovered more quickly, he noted.
While Pennsylvania has abundant natural gas with the Marcellus Shale and many excellent colleges and universities, it has not taken full advantage of these resources.
For example, “in terms of getting (shale gas) to market there are some issues with pipelines,” said Benefield. The gas is “one of the things that we should embrace. It would certainly help with inflation.” Pennsylvania also needs to give some “regulatory relief” to the energy sector, he said.
And while the state’s top-notch universities draw students, there is a brain drain when they complete their education and move away, he said.
“When they graduate they look for other opportunities,” Benefield said. We are “seeing our kids and grandkids leaving the state and then it’s been an out-migration state.” Although, regionally, some residents of New York and New Jersey, where taxes are even higher move here, many Pennsylvanians have headed off to Texas, North Carolina, or Florida “where there’s been greater economic growth, “he said.
And the trend of office workers working from home rather than returning to the office has had a ripple effect on small businesses like restaurants, where sales have decreased.