The region rebounded well from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and a University of Scranton economist is optimistic about continued recovery.

“We suffered a huge drop of the labor force from the pandemic,” said Satyajit Ghosh, Ph.D. “If the trend continues in the next three to four months we might be able to get back to the pre-pandemic level of employment.”

The region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate returned to pre-pandemic levels in May, according to data from the state Department of Labor & Industry.

The rate for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area dipped two-tenths of a percentage point from April to 5.5%, the lowest level since February 2020. Regionally, the rate has decreased for three consecutive months and fell 2.7 percentage points since last May.

Pennsylvania’s rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.6% in May while the national rate was unchanged at 3.6%.

The number of employed workers increased by 1,200 in May and 7,700 over the past year.

While the region had a net gain of 700 non-seasonally adjusted jobs in May, including 1,100 in the leisure and hospitality sector, Ghosh fears rising inflation may negatively impact future employment growth.

“The labor market is very strong in spite of the very sharp increase in inflation that we haven’t seen in the last 40 years or so,” Ghosh said. “If inflation is not reigned in, companies might start to have second thoughts about hiring people.”

Steven Zellers, a state industry and business analyst, stressed the region has been trending in the right direction for more than a year.

“The unemployment rate has declined 16 of the last 17 months and the other month had no change,” he said. “The majority of industries have improved over the month or year or both. Other than education and health services, just about everything is positive and we haven’t been able to say that for a while.”

Even though the region continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic, Zellers feels there is still work to be done.

“We’re still not actually out of the woods yet with COVID,” he said. “It would be nice to see the labor force continue to increase. It’s still increasing by hundreds over the month and year. It would be nice to see it grow by thousands.”

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