Peak Gas... or The metrification of Washington County
A good story? Sure. Related to Marcellus Shale. Yup. But still not quite the story it seems for at least two reasons. Using the exact same data source as the stories are talking about, here is the monthly trend in Washington County employment going back a few years. You can see the big jump in the last year that resulted in the headlines. Yet part of that connects to the really sizable and successive drops in the immediate years before. I thought we were a few years into the Marcellus bump? I don't recall any stories on those big drops. Looks like there was a long term growth trend that pretty much stopped in recent years and the very recent gains may be seen as some catching up. Those who like to infer causality a bit too quickly might even say the arresting of growth in the county seems to coincide with the arrival of Marcellus-related employment. Of course there was this little recession along the way.
But there is something else. Despite the claims that the data showed Washington County to have one of the biggest gains in employment among all counties in the US.... it is a bit narrower than that. The actual data in question only ranks the 323 largest counties in the US. When you rank US counties by employment, you get that Washington County and Butler County, the very same two stories mentioned in the local coverage for their rapid job growth of late, are literally tied for 311th. So they are very barely making the cut to even be included in this data at all. Since the metric being talked about is percentage growth it makes a big difference when you realize we are comparing some very small counties (80K employment each in those two counties) with some very large counties (Los Angeles at the top has over 3 million workers). Consider that if you added every worker in Washington County to Los Angeles it would not generate the percentage growth there that is being reported for Washington County here.
Actually.. I just realized. Washington County gained 4K or so workers over the year per this data. If it had not gained that much employment it would still be down at 75-76K workers. 75,100 is the current cutoff for inclusion in this data. So they really are barely making it on to the list.
Finally.. Where are all the other counties being impacted by shale gas development in Pennsylvania? No mention of them in this data or related headlines. Consider that virtually none of the Marcellus impacted counties in PA are large enough to even come close to being on the list of the top 300 or so counties in the US. The only other one I see in the list is Luzerne County which is at the crossroads of a lot of Marcellus development. Did it have big job growth in the data? +1%, or less than that of Philadelphia County if you want a benchmark for a region minimally impacted by shale gas employment.
Wait, I see Lackawanna County there in the data. That is deep into Marcellus activity. What was their job growth over the same period? 0.4%.... decline! Some folks missed that. Sure isn't mentioned in the Marcellus Shale Coalition's PR on this data. Funny that. Must not be the place with the zero % unemployment rate. That by the way is the worst job number reported for a Pennsylvania County in this data and one of the worst performances nationwide in the data being reported on. Seems like that might be worth a headline in a local paper up there. I may need to check the Rolodex,
Given all the talk, let alone the zero unemployment rates.... How can there possibly be an employment decline of any kind in the heart of Marcellus Land in Northeast PA? Hmmmmmmmm. That would be my longest hmm yet.