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Low-wage jobs increasing in York County
York County finished 2015 with its unemployment rate returning to pre-recession levels, but industry data suggests many high-wage jobs have been replaced with low-paying positions.
During the Great Recession — which the National Bureau of Economic Research defines as the period from December 2007 to June 2009 — the county saw its largest employment loss from 2008 to 2009, when the average yearly employment total dropped by 8,420 employees, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Industry.
The job losses were spread across most industries, with 16 of 20 industries experiencing a drop in average yearly employment.
In 2015, four of the five lowest-paying industries — Services; Arts, Entertainment and Recreation; Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting; and Other Services — saw their employment rise above 2008 levels, while four of the five highest-paying industries — Utilities; Finance and Insurance; Mining, Quarrying and Oil and Gas Extraction; and Manufacturing — were still below pre-recession levels.
Jeff Newman, a state Department of Labor analyst, said those figures are consistent with the labor market nationally.
"The bread and butter of the American economy was manufacturing, and I don't know if we'll ever recover (those jobs) with outsourcing," he said.
Manufacturing-dependent economy: York County's economy is particularly dependent on manufacturing, which contributed about 22 percent of the county's total GDP, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nationally, manufacturing contributes 12.1 percent of the total GDP.
Tom Palisin, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania, said the manufacturing sector brings outside wealth into the area from exports.
"Even if employment may be flat or declining, the impact of the ability to generate wealth for communities is significant," he said.
Manufacturing employment in the county dropped from 37,870 employees in March 2008 to 31,395 employees, which is still the most among the 20 sectors, in March 2015.
Palisin said manufacturing companies got used to being productive with fewer employees during the recession "because they had to," and started investing in more technology instead of hiring workers back.
As a result, Palisin said, the skill gap, which was already an issue before the recession, has widened as "the expectation of employers has gone up, while the pipeline and level of workers has not."
In need of workforce: Terry Jamison, a precision machining technology instructor at York County School of Technology, said most manufacturer employers he's spoken with "are screaming for people."
"I've had employers tell me they're moving if they can't find more workforce," Jamison, a former Johnson Controls supervisor, said.
According to the state Department of Labor's Center for Workforce Information and Analysis, there were 1,174 job postings in the manufacturer sector during December 2015.
Abby Eberhart, a human resources representative for Gettysburg-based Pella Corp., tried recruiting entry-level employees at a recent York College career fair.
Eberhart said the manufacturing company has seen open positions remain unfilled longer than they'd like.
"It's hard to maintain entry-level jobs," she said. "High turnover hurts the business."
High turnover and a lack of skilled workforce wasn't unique to the manufacturing sector among companies attending the career fair.
Recruiters from information technology, health care and construction companies all said their industries are experiencing a shortage of available workers.
"There was a huge discussion at a conference I was at about five years ago about a wage war, and we're starting to see that," said Jarrod Schiding, a developer for Kinsley Construction. "There's a lot of movement with employees between companies in the same industry because there's a talent shortage."
Comparative wages: York is in the upper third of counties in the state with an average yearly wage of $43,611, according to state Department of Labor data. However, the county is in the bottom third of the state in terms of 10-year wage growth, with the average yearly wage increasing by $6,777 since 2005.
Chester County, by contract, has seen its average yearly wage increase by $14,521 since 2005.
One sector that has been able to thrive in York County in terms of employment and wages is Health Care and Social Assistance.
The county has added nearly 3,000 health care jobs since 2008, according to March data, and the sector's average yearly wage increased from $37,856 to $46,228.
Gary Keith, a regional economist for M&T Bank, said the health care industry should continue to thrive because "it's a people business."
"We're all getting older, and it's hard to substitute a machine for treatment in health care services," Keith said.
Transportation is another sector that "should be a big player in York's future," he added, pointing to the county's access to major highways.
"You always have to look at the natural resources from a business perspective," Keith said.
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all data comes from the state Department of Labor and Industry's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), which is not seasonally adjusted when referring to specific industries. When applicable, March figures were used because the month is one of the least affected by seasonal employment changes, according to Newman.
— Reach David Weissman at email@example.com.