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(The Center Square) – The Pittsburgh region’s economic recovery trails other cities, particularly those located in states with right to work laws, a report published this week concluded.

The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy released a brief that examines employment data in Pittsburgh and six other cities in states with no right-to-work laws: Hartford, Conn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Cincinnati; Minneapolis; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Rochester, N.Y.

The analysis also looked at gains in seven cities in right-to-work states: Boise, Idaho; Richmond, Va.; Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Louisville, Ky.

Right to work states don’t require union membership or financial support as a term of employment. The institute’s brief concluded that rates of job loss and recovery between May 2019 and May 2021 in cities without compulsory union support fared better.

The brief describes the Pittsburgh metro statistical area (MSA) as a seven-county region surrounding the state’s second largest city. Jobs in the area still trail figures recorded in May 2019 by 6.8%, while the average workforce count across all seven cities hovered around 5.1% less than the 2019 level.

Average employment levels in the seven right to work cities, however, are about 1.9% lower than 2019.

The analysis also considered employment growth in each region from 2013 through 2019, as well as the percent change in jobs between May 2019 and May 2020 and May 2020 and May 2021.

In each category, the right to work cities sustained fewer job losses when the pandemic hit and quicker recoveries as restrictions lifted. The institute said Pittsburgh also experienced the weakest employment growth in the six-year period leading up to the pandemic.

“On each of the measures used to evaluate MSAs in terms of private-sector employment growth before the pandemic, during the worst of the COVID-caused downturn and in the recovery period, the Pittsburgh MSA’s performance was very poor compared to most other metro areas,” Jake Haulk, the institute’s president emeritus, wrote in the brief’s conclusion. “It lost a greater percentage of jobs during 2020 than 12 of the 13 other metro areas of comparable size studied. Only Rochester was worse.”

Haulk said the results argue that “everything else equal,” right to work laws combined with low rates of public sector unionization “are associated with friendlier business climates and a more free-enterprise oriented approach to regulation.”

“In short, the structural, labor and regulatory policies of Pennsylvania and the metro area core-city are inhibiting growth,” he said. "And it is most notable in comparison with states that have adopted right to work legislation and have low government-sector unionization.”

The AFL-CIO said right to work laws “tilt the balance toward big corporations and further rig the system at the expense of working families.”

The organization said workers in these states often earn lower wages and face higher rates of discrimination as a result.

Some 27 states have right to work laws enacted, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania's General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.