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STUDY SHOWS: Overly Strict Restrictions in Pennsylvania Have Hampered Recovery

(The Center Square) – The Pittsburgh region’s slow climb out of the economic fallout incurred by monthslong lockdowns amid COVID-19 precautions could have been lessened with fewer restrictions, a recent policy analysis states.

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Gloucester City News blog files

In the policy brief, researchers with the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a conservative think tank, delved into the payroll jobs numbers within the Pittsburgh statistical metropolitan area for the month of May.

Within the snapshot in time, overall numbers were on the mend from the April figures – when widespread lockdowns forced all nonessential businesses to close their doors amid government regulations.

In the jointly authored brief, Frank Gamrat, executive director of the Allegheny Institute, and Jake Haulk, president-emeritus, were critical of Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf’s policies in the initial months of the coronavirus and their impact on various areas of the state, including Pittsburgh.

“Despite a loosening of restrictions in May, with all counties in the (Pittsburgh) metro area being moved into the governor’s yellow phase by mid-month, ongoing dramatic job declines from pre-virus levels continued,” Gamrat and Haulk wrote.

As with most area of Pennsylvania and across the U.S., jobless claims in the Pittsburgh region declined between April and May – a trend that has continued in some areas of the U.S., depending on state’s specific mandates.

In the Pittsburgh area, there were 15 percent fewer payroll jobs in May in year-over-year comparisons. The month prior, there were 18 percent fewer payroll jobs in the same comps.

While all areas of the country are grappling with higher-than-average unemployment figures at an unprecedented time, Gamrat and Haulk said the numbers within Pittsburgh and other areas of Pennsylvania point to deeper issues that predate the coronavirus.

“The area’s economy has seen sluggish growth for the last few years and has been unable to keep up with national growth rates,” Gamrat and Haulk wrote. “The business-unfriendly, high-tax and regulatory environment in the state and area that was responsible for the pre-virus sluggish growth will also hamper the economy’s recovery.”

On a more granular level, Gamrat and Haulk also delved into different sectors of the Pittsburgh area’s economy. The job losses, whether temporary or permanent, were widespread, they wrote in the policy brief.

The so-called “eds and meds” category – accounting for such jobs as health care and social assistance – incurred a loss of 30,400 positions between May 2019 and May 2020. This category, according to Gamrat and Haulk’s analysis, accounted for a 79 percent of the overall jobless numbers within the Pittsburgh area in May.

“Part of this huge drop can be attributed to the governor’s orders to shut down non-essential medical practices, which included elective procedures at hospitals and outpatient centers,” Gamrat and Haulk wrote.

The new Allegheny Institute policy brief came on the heels of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s June jobs report.

According to the state agency, overall unemployment across Pennsylvania was 13 percent, as of June 30. In the report, state officials said 40 percent of the non-farm jobs lost in March and April had recovered by the end of June.

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