The State of Northeastern Pennsylvania's Economy

Summary of Study

The Institute’s Indicators project measures the progress of Northeastern Pennsylvania over time, focusing on key economic, education, public safety, health and human services, environment, and infrastructure data. In short, the report explores quality of life throughout the region. The trends in the data tell a descriptive story about its jobs and economy. Furthermore, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be severe and far-reaching; many of the documented data points are likely to change dramatically due to this disruption. As a result, they represent a baseline for future analysis on the impacts of COVID-19. Data in this report will be one of the last Indicators reports in which current data reflect the period before the pandemic affected the world.

As made evident by its consistently lower-than-average wages and higher unemployment levels, the economy of the Lackawanna County and Luzerne County region is historically sluggish. The economic repercussions of the pandemic led to a spike in unemployment in April 2020, with double-digit unemployment rates persisting for five months, and regional unemployment rates continue to surpass statewide rates. The region has experienced some net job growth over the last few years, which reflected a falling unemployment rate and an increase in total jobs prior to the pandemic. Some higher wage employment sectors are showing growth, however, and consistent contributions from exports and tourism positively affect the economy.

Issues such as aging and poverty are also influencing these economic characteristics. The steady rate of workers leaving the workforce due to retirement has resulted in a smaller labor force, though labor force participation among those aged 18 to 64 years has increased in recent years (indicating a favorable environment for job seekers). Low-wage jobs, however, contribute to both poverty and the number of households with income above the poverty line yet insufficient as a living wage (the income required for a modest but dignified life). Thus, there is great demand on social services and charitable organizations that are themselves competing for limited government and philanthropic funding. Non-profits were able to receive some COVID-19 funds in 2020 to support their activity, but the long-term impact is not yet determined. The pandemic has intensified preexisting strains on the economy as well as created new ones.

Read the full policy report here