Luzerne and Lackawanna counties are moving in a positive economic direction, but face continued challenges, according to the 2016 Indicators Report.
The 114-page annual report compiled by The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University revealed the two-county region is showing growth in labor force and employment opportunities while the area’s infrastructure is deficient, said Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development.
The report studied 12 different categories that include demographics, jobs and economy, education, technology and innovation, housing, social services, health and healthcare, civic engagement, government, public safety, government, environment and infrastructure.
“The report compares (Lackawanna and Luzerne counties) to the state and nationally to identify and address the area’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ooms said.
Luzerne and Lackawanna counties held the title of having the highest unemployment rate in the state for several years. In 2009, Luzerne County’s annual unemployment rate jumped from 6.3 percent for 2008 to 8.9 and proceeded to climb to 9.9 in 2010, 9.5 in 2011 and 9.7 in 2012. In 2013, the unemployment rate for the county decreased to 9.3 and continued on a downward slope to 7.3 in 2014.
The drop in the unemployment rate in 2013 was a “false positive,” Ooms said. She said the decrease was caused by a decline in the labor force, meaning there were less people looking for work.
“In 2015-16, the labor force increased and, for the first time since the recession, it was due to real job creation,” Ooms said.
The two-county region has growth in diverse industries, such as construction, manufacturing, logistics, retail, transportation and utilities and education and health care.
The study reported employed residents in both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties had a three percent average salary increase from 2013 to 2014.
“We saw an increase in wages, but the wage increase was not keeping up with the rising cost of living,” Ooms said. “The region is still below the state and national levels.”
The quality of life includes a network of higher education institutions and a variety of indoor and outdoor recreational activities attracted new residents.
Luzerne County had an increase of migration or people moving into the area, 4,841 new residents between 2005 to 2013. Lackawanna County had a slight decrease of 725 residents in the same time span.
The study pinpointed areas such as infrastructure that need improvement to support the population and job growth.
Out of 780 bridges counted by the 2015 National Bridge Inventory, 43.6 percent were classified as “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete,” according to the report.
“There are incredible opportunities here,” Ooms said. “No region across the country is without its challenges.”