According to a grimmer-than-expected report from the Keystone Research Group, the workforce outlook for Pennsylvanians is the bleakest it has been since 2010.

The report, “State of Working Pennsylvania,” shows a heightened level of worker discontent, coupled with slowed job growth, depressed wages and a surprising increase — a whopping 11 percent — in the number of poverty-wage jobs in the state.

The report shows that Pennsylvania’s economy has performed poorly from the perspective of typical working families since the end of 2010. It also shows that wages have been flat for a longer period. In the 32 months since 2010, ending July 2013, the state has experienced a gradual slowdown in job growth: from January 2010 to January 2011, the number of Pennsylvania jobs increased by 87,300, and over the ensuing 12 months, job growth fell to 46,200, with a further decline to 35,000 in 2012.

The report also shows that for this year through the month of July, Pennsylvania has created only 5,400 jobs.

“Many states have not witnessed a slowdown in job growth since 2010. Pennsylvania ranked 46th among the 50 states for job growth since December 2010. This poor job growth performance is in line with, but slightly worse than, Pennsylvania’s performance compared to the nation and other states during the equivalent 32-month period in the last two economic recoveries,” read a portion of the report’s executive summary. “Slowing job growth has resulted in persistently high unemployment in Pennsylvania. While the state’s unemployment rate was a percentage point or more below the national rate in 2009 and 2010, this Pennsylvania advantage has since disappeared.”

A closer inspection of the numbers provided in the report uncovers many unfortunate realities along with disconcerting trend indicators. For example, for the bottom four-tenths of the wage distribution index, Pennsylvania wages have declined by 4 percent since 2010, and since 2000, Pennsylvania workers “have seen more than a decade of flat wages. Indeed, since 1979, a full third of a century, wages for median-wage Pennsylvania workers have increased [by about 10 percent] in only one half-decade — the second half of the 1990s.”

The report terms that period as “the lost decade.”

“From 2010 to 2012, low-wage workers at the 10th percentile saw their earnings fall by 3.8 percent to $8.37 an hour, while a worker earning the state’s median wage saw earnings fall by 2.6 percent to $16.77 an hour. High-wage earners at the 90th percentile saw their pay fall by 1.6 percent to $37.45 an hour, while those at the 95th percentile saw earnings fall by 4.3 percent to $48.06 an hour,” read a statement from the center. “Recent job and wage trends undermine the economic recovery, researchers noted, as more low- and middle-income families are unable to buy the goods and services that will propel the economy forward. These same trends shrink the middle class, which, as the Harvard and Berkeley economists noted, jeopardizes upward mobility.”

The report did find that the state’s super-rich stayed that way, as the top 1 percent of wage earners in the state absorbed the majority of Pennsylvania’s income growth in 2012.

While solutions may be hard to come by — and even harder to enact and see through to the end — Keystone Research Center Executive Director Dr. Stephen Herzenberg said the solution may very well come from workers themselves who grow tired of accepting poverty-wage positions.

“The silver lining here,” said Herzenberg, an economist by trade, “is that a growing chorus of American workers have a dream of a different economy that pays workers at least $15 per hour. That economy is within reach and, our new report shows, badly needed.

“The fewer good jobs, or jobs of any kind, in lower-income communities, the less chance poor children have of escaping the economic station of their birth.”


Contact staff writer Damon C. Williams at (215) 893-5745 or

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