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Jobs & Economy

The Jobs and Economy section of this report summarizes important economic indicators in Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties and in Pennsylvania as a whole. The last 15 years have been an era of economic change, including the downturn of the housing market, subsequent ‘Great Recession,’ uneven recovery, and the continuing economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has also been increased automation in many industries, as well as shifts toward transportation, distribution, and e-commerce. All these factors have impacted the region, so understanding economic indicators is of tremendous importance. The trends in the data tell a descriptive story.

Many of the economic statistics in this year’s report reflect the recovery from the statewide shutdown in 2020. Unemployment spiked to levels unprecedented in living memory, but these declines in employment and income were short-lived relative to other economic downturns. Measurements of income, GDP, and the unemployment rate show the strength of the recovery, but the total number of employees is still not at the level it was pre-pandemic.

This recovery has resulted in a tight labor market, with many of the same workforce challenges that were present before the pandemic. In 2021 and 2022, the unemployment rate continued to drop, hitting pre-COVID levels. Yet, the labor force participation rate also declined in Lackawanna County, Luzerne County, and statewide compared with 2019. A declining population of working-age adults coupled with a falling labor force participation rate is a double bind for hiring as a smaller percentage of a shrinking workforce is available for hire. Meeting workforce needs must include a variety of strategies, including talent attraction and retention as well as elimination of barriers to workforce participation. These barriers relate to availability and affordability of childcare, transportation, and accessibility for individuals with health issues or disabilities.

The trajectory of this recovery is critical, as Northeastern Pennsylvania has generally experienced unemployment rates higher than national and statewide rates – along with relatively slow economic growth despite areas of strength such as the health care sector and the transportation and logistics industry. Wages in the region have lagged historically as well. The percentage of individuals living below the poverty level is a major issue impacting the region. Poverty levels are closely linked with unemployment and underemployment; when households lose their livelihood, people have difficulty providing their families with basic necessities. Additionally, low wage jobs contribute to both poverty and the number of households with income above the poverty line but 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. The region entered the last recession with poverty rates roughly on par with statewide rates, but since then, local poverty rates have generally been higher than the statewide rates.

Unemployment Rate and Labor Force

In all the years analyzed, Pennsylvania’s annual unemployment rate was lower than that of any of the three counties. Luzerne County’s rates were the highest and Wayne and Lackawanna Counties’ rates were comparable with the state overall. The Commonwealth experienced a gradually decreasing unemployment rate through most of the past decade, as the labor market recovered from the last recession. There were signs of a slight uptick in 2019, and in 2020, the unemployment rate spiked. It nearly doubled from the previous year – an economic repercussion of the pandemic, including the statewide shutdown of non-life-sustaining businesses. After falling from an eight-percent unemployment rate in 2013 to a low of 4.8 percent in 2018, Lackawanna County recorded a 9.6 percent unemployment rate in 2020. Luzerne County followed a similar pattern, peaking from a low of 5.6 percent in 2018 to 10.9 percent in 2020. Wayne County peaked from 4.9 in 2018 to 9.2 percent in 2020. The unemployment rates in all counties exceeded the statewide unemployment rate, which doubled from 4.5 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2020.

All geographies’ unemployment rates peaked in April 2020 and then slowly fell as the economy reopened. By 2021, unemployment rates had fallen significantly (between 1.8 and 2.8 percentage points in all localities, but these were still well above pre-pandemic numbers). Continued decreases in 2022 brought the rates in line with or below pre-pandemic levels.

In Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, the shares of people in the labor force have generally declined since 2012, despite an uptick in 2016. Nonetheless, the two counties’ labor force participation rate trended upward during that time due to declines in the estimated population aged 18 to 64. Meanwhile both measures varied significantly for Wayne County, dropping 2012 through 2015 and fluctuating during the rest of the period. Overall, Wayne County was similar to the other two counties in that from 2012 to 2019 the number of people working dropped but the rate increased due to estimated declines in the population aged 18 to 64 years.

By 2022, there were over 7,000 fewer participants in the labor force of the three counties compared with 2012. In 2020 the labor force lost over 2,000 workers, and another 3,900 were lost in 2021. The labor force did grow in 2022 but only by approximately 700 people. This is because Lackawanna County’s labor force grew by around 900 workers and Wayne and Luzerne Counties’ labor forces each shrunk by about 100 each. The statewide labor force followed a similar trend, growing from 2014 to 2019 and shrinking 2020 and 2021 to rebound slightly in 2022. With these decreases, the participation rate dropped significantly everywhere in 2020 and everywhere but Wayne County in 2021.

Annual Unemployment Rate

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Prior year figures have been revised. 2022 rates are preliminary.

Annual Labor Force

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Prior year figures have been revised

Labor Force Participation Rate

Civilian Population 18 to 64

Household Income

In 2021, the median household income was $62,136 in Lackawanna County, $60,020 in Luzerne County, and $54,336 in Wayne County. Statewide, median household income was $68,957, higher than all local counties and a notable increase from the prior year despite the pandemic.

When adjusted for inflation, median household income declined from 2000 to 2010. However, this trend reversed in the most recent decade, with real household income increasing by $10,461 in Lackawanna County, $8,696 in Luzerne County, $894 in Wayne County, and $8,581 statewide from 2010 to 2021. A significant portion of these increases occurred in the last two years, with Lackawanna County growing by $5,886, Luzerne County by $3,618, and statewide by $2,637 between 2019 and 2021 (after adjusting for inflation). Wayne County’s median inflation-adjusted income decreased during that period.

As of 2021, the region had a larger share of households with moderate incomes than the state as a whole. Households with incomes below $50,000 per year comprised about 40 percent of all households in Lackawanna County and 43 percent in Luzerne and Wayne Counties, compared with 37 percent statewide. Conversely, households with incomes in excess of $100,000 comprised 33 percent of all households in Pennsylvania but only one-quarter regionally.

Household Income Distribution: 2021

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (Wayne Using 5 year-estimate)

Income by Source

In 2021, over 72 percent of households in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties earned income by working, while 67 percent of Wayne County households received earned income. Lackawanna County saw a significant drop between 2019 and 2021 (nearly two percentage points), while Luzerne County dropped 0.2 percentage points and Wayne increased 0.2 points. Throughout the Commonwealth, the percentage of households with earnings dropped in 2021 to just below 75 percent but continued to exceed the rates in the region.

In 2021, the mean earnings for households with earned income were $83,130 in Lackawanna County, $80,488 in Luzerne County, and $72,246 in Wayne County. All were lower than the $97,147 mean earnings statewide. Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties saw significant growth in 2021. Wayne County increased by a smaller margin.

The share of households receiving Social Security income dropped nearly two percentage points in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, but increased one point in Wayne County. Meanwhile the statewide percentage stayed generally stable. Historically, Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties had higher percentages of recipients on Social Security than the state but this gap has narrowed. Wayne County’s share of households receiving Social Security remains significantly higher at around 48 percent. Social Security and retirement incomes were much lower than earned income. In all three counties, households with Social Security income received a mean of just over $20,000.

Income by Source: Lackawanna County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (S1902)

Income by Source: Luzerne County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Income by Source: Wayne County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (using 5 year estimate)

Income by Source: Pennsylvania

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Per Capita Income

From 2000 to 2021, all three counties reported increases in unadjusted per capita income between 72 and 79 percent. Per capita income in all counties was lower than the statewide per capita income, however, and grew at a slower pace during that time.

After accounting for inflation, year-to-year changes have been variable in the region and state. Lackawanna County was highly variable with multiple years of decreases but also increases of nearly ten percent increase in 2015 and nearly five percent in 2019. Luzerne County saw its largest jump in 2015 as well (over four percent), but then experienced declines year after year. Wayne County saw consistent but minor growth in per capita income, less than two percent year over year, except for one year of decline. The state was more consistent than the region, increasing two or three percent each year aside from one annual increase of one percent. From 2019 to 2021 Luzerne and Lackawanna counties’ per capita each grew 0.7 percent but those in Wayne County and the state dropped 1.8 percent and 1.4 percent respectively. Overall, there was an increase of about 12 percent in Lackawanna County, nine percent in Luzerne County, seven percent in Wayne County and 15 percent statewide from 2000 to 2021.

Per Capita Income

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (Wayne using 5-year estimate)

Per Capita Income (2022 Inflation Adjusted Dollars)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau (inflation calculated December of Each Year)

Aggregate Personal Income

Aggregate personal income is defined by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as “the income that is received by all persons from all sources.” Aggregate personal income has been slowly but steadily rising in all counties for the past several years, after seeing stagnation and modest decline in the wake of the last recession. The Commonwealth has experienced a similar trend. From 2020 to 2021, Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties saw increases in nominal (unadjusted for inflation) aggregate personal income of 5.8 percent, 6.7 percent, and 7.1 percent respectively, compared to 5.7 percent statewide. This is one measure where local growth has outpaced the state. Increases from 2019 to 2020 were even larger, due in part to income in the form of direct pandemic relief payments.

Aggregate Personal Income (in thousands of current-year dollars)

Prior year data has been revised. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis


The rate of poverty in the area increased sharply with the rise in unemployment during the last recession, with Lackawanna County and Luzerne County both seeing increases from 2005 to 2010. Since 2015, poverty has followed a modest declining trend statewide and in Lackawanna County. Poverty in Wayne County increased in 2016, but otherwise declined. Luzerne County’s poverty rate declined 2010 through 2017, only to grow slightly in 2018 and 2019.

Among all geographies, poverty rates dropped in 2020. In Lackawanna County, Wayne County, and statewide the drops were significant, but in Luzerne County the improvement was marginal. Decreases in the poverty rates despite the economic disruption of the pandemic in 2020 are likely influenced by increased assistance programs and direct federal aid payments implemented in that year. As the programs expired in 2021, poverty rates again increased, though they remain below pre-pandemic levels in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties. They are comparable to pre-pandemic levels in Wayne County and statewide.

Poverty Rate – Percent of All People Below the Federal Poverty Line

Source: U.S. Census Bureau Small Area Income & Poverty Estimates

Employment by Occupation

In 2021, the top occupation categories in Lackawanna County were office and administrative support and transportation and material moving. Luzerne County had the same top occupation groups, but in the reverse order. Sales and related occupations represented the third most common occupation category for both counties. Wayne County’s top occupation categories were: 1) office and administrative support; 2) sales and related occupations; and 3) construction and extraction operations.

While most occupation groups have seen overall declines in total employment over the past five years, a few categories grew across all three counties. Transportation and material movers; business and financial operations; management; computer and mathematics; and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations increased. Transportation and material movers’ growth across the region has been substantial and now comprises 11 percent of jobs in Lackawanna County, 17 percent of jobs in Luzerne County, and seven percent of jobs in Wayne County.

Employment by Occupation: 2022

Source: Chmura Economics

Occupational CategoryLackawanna CurrentLackawanna % of All JobsLackawanna 5 Year ChangeLuzerne CurrentLuzerne % of All JobsLuzerne 5 Year ChangeWayne CurrentWayne % of All JobsWayne 5 Year Change
Architecture and Engineering1,2041.2%01,7331.2%-411430.8%12
Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media1,3901.4%-1331,6751.1%-1582621.5%-8
Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance 2,9322.9%-1623,9132.6%-3948354.9%55
Business and Financial 4,7514.8%1776,5954.4%3117954.7%127
Community and Social Service 2,1802.2%-1312,5811.7%-3363732.2%-52
Computer and Mathematical 1,9642.0%1283,3662.3%4072851.7%69
Construction and Extraction 3,6013.6%-1085,4953.7%2411,3027.7%14
Educational Instruction and Library5,4865.5%-2567,0404.7%-3507364.3%-53
Farming, Fishing, and Forestry2810.3%1052350.2%41850.5%8
Food Preparation and Serving 7,8997.9%-71310,6857.2%-8811,1957.0%-46
Healthcare Practitioners and Technical 6,9186.9%-1329,6726.5%-2471,0256.0%-20
Healthcare Support6,9386.9%2817,6325.1%-727174.2%-113
Installation, Maintenance, and Repair 3,5313.5%-1076,0674.1%617854.6%6
Life, Physical, and Social Science6030.6%-248950.6%33990.6%10
Office and Administrative Support 12,61212.6%-2,10218,11912.1%-2,8142,13812.6%-111
Personal Care and Service 2,3002.3%763,0942.1%-1563902.3%-17
Production 6,8796.9%-16311,3957.6%895973.5%37
Protective Service 1,7641.8%-183,1262.1%-2749475.6%16
Sales and Related 9,2679.3%-87013,1218.8%-1,7301,74110.3%21
Transportation and Material Moving 11,42711.4%1,21024,75316.6%4,6091,2487.4%46
Total - All Occupations99,973100.0%-2,815149,388100.0%-1,44716,954100.0%45

Average Annual Pay

From 2012 through 2021, the three counties and the state consistently reported steady increases in average annual pay. Through the period analyzed, all geographies averaged increases between three percent and four percent from year to year (not accounting for inflation). Lackawanna County’s average salary was $14,565 less than the state’s rate (nearly 24 percent less). Luzerne County’s average salary was $13,657 less than the state’s rate (22 percent lower). Wayne County’s disparity was largest, at $16,909 less than the state’s rate (over 27 percent).

Average Annual Pay

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

Job Growth

Employment performance is measured as a ratio of employment growth compared to population growth. A rate of job growth higher than the rate of population growth is a potentially good sign for the economy but can also be a leading indicator of a tight labor market. Otherwise, the population may be growing faster than the job market, which may indicate economic stagnation. A poor job growth to population growth ratio can also indicate that a region is becoming a bedroom community, where people come to live but work elsewhere. A job growth ratio that is too high could conversely be a sign of workforce shortage.

From 2010 to 2021, job availability declined nearly six percent Lackawanna County, but the population increased 0.6 percent. Luzerne County’s population grew 1.6 percent and jobs increased nearly one percent. Wayne County saw negatives in both measures, with 5.4 percent fewer jobs and 2.6 percent fewer people. This is partially a result of the pandemic; as seen in the unemployment data, employment numbers didn’t return to pre-COVID levels until 2022. Job availability and population did increase statewide and nationally, with job growth outpacing population growth.

Prior to the pandemic, job growth outpaced population growth in the region and statewide. Based on the growth seen in measures like the unemployment rate, it is likely that when 2022 data is fully available, job growth will again outpace population growth.

Job Growth to Population Growth Comparison: 2010 – 2021

Source: US Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics QCEW

Job Growth to Population Growth Comparison: 2015 – 2021

Source: US Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics QCEW

Distribution of Employment by Industry

The three industry groups (by rank) with the highest proportions of jobs in Lackawanna County are: Education, Health Care and Social Assistance; Retail Trade; and Manufacturing, in that order. In Luzerne County, the top industries are Education, Health Care and Social Assistance; Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities; and Manufacturing, in that order. In Wayne County the three largest industries are Education, Health Care and Social Assistance; Retail Trade; and Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation, and Accommodation and Food Services.

In 2022, the Education, Health Care and Social Assistance industry comprised just under one quarter of all jobs in the region, and the top three industry groups in each county comprised about half of all jobs in that county. Both Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties’ smallest shares of jobs were in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Hunting, and Mining industry. Wayne County’s smallest share was in the Information industry.

Despite job growth during the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic there are still declines in most sectors. In Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties only four of 14 industry sectors saw job growth. In Wayne County, nine of 14 industries experienced job growth. In Lackawanna County, the growth recorded in the Manufacturing and Transportation, Warehousing, and Utilities industries was substantial. Wayne County saw the largest growth in Professional and Administrative Services industries.

Distribution of Employment by Industry: Lackawanna

Source: Chmura Economics

Distribution of Employment by Industry: Luzerne

Source: Chmura Economics

Distribution of Employment by Industry: Wayne

Source: Chmura Economics

Number of Employees

Prior to the pandemic, employment had been generally trending upward in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties. Lackawanna County saw 0.6 percent growth between 2012 and 2019, Luzerne County saw nearly five percent growth, and the state saw six percent growth during that time. Meanwhile, the number of workers in Wayne County declined from 2011 until 2015 and more recent increases brought its overall growth to 0.2 percent between 2012 and 2019.

Total employment in the region stood at 257,875 in 2019, before falling to an annual average of 239,060 amid the pandemic in 2020. The drop amounts to eight percent of jobs in Lackawanna and Wayne Counties and seven percent in Luzerne County and statewide. Calendar year 2021 saw strong job growth but it still did not quite make up for what was lost. Total employees in Lackawanna County and Pennsylvania as a whole each expanded three percent while Luzerne County’s number grew two percent and Wayne County’s number grew five percent.

Number of Employees

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

Number of Establishments

The number of business establishments has fluctuated year to year from 2012 through 2019. Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Wayne Counties experienced an overall downward trend. The number of establishments in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties dropped around three percent while Wayne County’s number dropped around five percent. Meanwhile the state’s number of establishments increased three percent.

From 2019 to 2020, Pennsylvania and Luzerne County saw increases in establishments despite the pandemic, while Lackawanna County’s volume of establishments declined almost two percent and Wayne County’s volume of establishments declined almost one percent. In 2021, each county saw a small increase of less than one percent and the Commonwealth saw a growth of 3.4 percent – its largest year-over-year gain. Nonetheless, all three counties had fewer establishments in 2021 than they did in 2012, though Pennsylvania as a whole had over seven percent more.

Number of Establishments

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 4th Quarter. Prior data has been revised.

Deed Transactions

Deed transactions measure activity in the real estate market, regarding residential, commercial, and industrial property. In Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties, the numbers of deed transactions in 2021 spiked to levels not seen in several years, but then dropped in 2022. Even with this drop, however, the numbers of transactions were still larger than they were any year between 2016 and 2020. Transactions in Wayne County also rose in 2021 before falling in 2022. More transactions were reported in each of the last three years than in any analyzed year prior to 2020.

Deed Transactions

2011-2016 Data for Lackawanna County has been revised.
Source(s): Lackawanna & Luzerne Counties’ Recorders of Deeds

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Prior to 2020, there had been consistent GDP growth in the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), averaging almost three percent per year from 2012 to 2019. The state’s GDP growth is slightly higher, averaging over percent per year. GDP for the MSA decreased 3.7 percent from 2019 to 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the drop was not equally spread. Lackawanna County’s GDP dropped 1.6 percent while Luzerne County’s dropped 4.3 percent. For comparison, Wayne County’s GDP dropped 2.2 percent and the statewide decline was 3.5 percent. As the economy bounced back from the pandemic in 2021, the metro area, all three counties, and the state saw GDP growth of 8.6 percent to 9.5 percent.

GDP Growth (Not Adjusted for Inflation)

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

Exports by Industry

Numerous firms in the region contribute to the economy by exporting their goods overseas. Before 2020, the region had seen a generally upward trend in exported goods aside from a noticeable drop from 2018 to 2019. In 2020 exports dropped 20 percent due to the pandemic. In 2021 firms throughout the region exported products worth nearly $1.4 billion, a seven-percent increase from the prior year but still below pre-pandemic levels.

Chemical manufacturing has been the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre MSA’s largest goods export category for the last several years, with approximately $506 million in exports in 2021.

This is $71 million more than 2020 numbers (an increase exceeding 16 percent), but the increase did not make up for what was lost in 2020. In 2021 chemical exports totaled $37 million less than 2019 total. The plastics and rubber products manufacturing industries suffered the greatest one-year decline, at approximately 45 percent from 2019 to 2021. Food manufacturing defied broader trends to show growth in 2020 with a five-percent increase, though it declined three percent by 2021.

The region’s largest trade partners were Canada and Mexico, receiving 42 percent of the region’s exports. In 2021, the European Union overtook Asia as the region’s second largest recipient of exports, with 21 percent of exports going to the EU and 19 percent of exports going to Asia. The change is the result of back-to-back years of decreases in exports to Asia from 2019 to 2021 and back-to-back increases in exports to the EU. South America, Africa, and all other destination countries together comprise more than percent of the region’s exports, slightly less than they comprised in 2020.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Area Exports by Industry

 Source: International Trade Administration

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Area Exports by Destination

Source: International Trade Administration

Federal Funding

This indicator tracks federal funding in the form of grants and prime contracts (including defense) for the public, private, and non-profit sectors. Some other forms of federal funding or awards, such as insurances, are not included. The three counties together received nearly $2.62 billion in federal contracts and grants in the calendar year 2021. The larger portion of this total consists of federal prime contracts. In terms of direct payments, loans, and other assistance, the region received approximately $4.38 billion.

Federal Awards 2021 (Calendar Year)

Student Debt

The share of the adult population with student loan debt is 22 percent in Lackawanna County, 18 percent in Luzerne County, and 15 percent in Wayne County. Nineteen percent of the Commonwealth’s population also has student loan debt. Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties and Pennsylvania’s shares are higher than the nationwide percentage of 15 percent. The proportions of residents with student debt dropped by one percentage point from 2021 in all geographic areas.

The percentages of student loan holders with debt in default is nine percent in Lackawanna County, eight percent in Luzerne County, and five percent in Wayne County. The state and national percentages fall in the middle of this range, with seven percent in default statewide and eight percent nationally. From 2021 to 2022, the share of borrowers with student loan debt in default fell in each geography analyzed. From early 2020 to early 2023, student loan payments on federally-backed loans have been paused; private loans were not affected.

Of all analyzed areas, Lackawanna County has the highest median student loan debt (at $22,172), closely followed by Pennsylvania with only $40 less. Wayne County and the national median are $21,604 and $20,108 respectively. Luzerne County has the lowest median student loan debt of all geographies analyzed, at $19,874. The median monthly payments of borrowers correlate to the median student loan debt amount in each county.

Student Loan Debt: 2022

Source: Urban Institute, last updated 3/31/2022

Student Loan Debt: 2022

Source: Urban Institute, last updated 3/31/2022