Thank You

Thank you to the following organizations for their continued support of our research and this Data Dashboard, which is part of Project STIR (Sparking Transformation using Information & Research).

Moses Taylor Foundation
The Robert H. Spitz Foundation
Willary Foundation
Scranton Area Community Foundation
William G. McGowan Charitable Fund

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Jobs & Economy

The last decade or so has been an era of economic change, including the downturn of the housing market, subsequent ‘Great Recession,’ 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.

Unemployment Rate

In all years analyzed, Pennsylvania’s annual unemployment rate was lower than that of either county. Luzerne County’s rates were higher than Lackawanna County’s during this period. From 2010 to 2015, the Commonwealth experienced a gradually decreasing unemployment rate as the labor market recovered from the last recession. A slight increase in 2016 was followed by further decline before a slight uptick in 2019. In 2020, the unemployment rate spiked, doubling from the previous year as a result of the economic repercussions of the pandemic, including the statewide shutdown of non-life-sustaining businesses. After falling from a nine-percent unemployment rate in 2010 to a low of 4.6 percent in 2018, Lackawanna County recorded a 9.9 percent unemployment rate in 2020. Luzerne County followed a similar pattern, peaking from a low of 5.4 percent in 2018 to 11.2 in 2020. The unemployment rate in both counties exceeded the statewide unemployment rate, which doubled from 4.5 percent in 2019 to 9.1 percent in 2020.

In April 2020, all geographies experienced the highest monthly unemployment rate of the year. The region experienced higher rates than the state; Lackawanna County had a 17.2 percent unemployment rate, Luzerne County 18.5 percent, and Pennsylvania 15.9 percent. All geographies had rates in the double digits for five months, from April to August.

Estimates for January 2021 (not seasonally adjusted) are 8.9 and 10.3 respectively for Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties and 8.0 percent for Pennsylvania. These rates are at least three percent higher than they were in January 2020, signaling continuing negative economic effects of the pandemic on the labor force.


Annual Unemployment Rate

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Prior year figures have been revised. 2020 rates are preliminary.

Labor Force

The labor forces in both counties have generally decreased since 2012. In 2020, Lackawanna County experienced a decrease of nearly 1,400 workers while Luzerne County’s labor force declined by more than 1,200 workers from 2019 to 2020. However, the labor force participation rate (the percentage of eligible working-age adults in the labor force) has shown improvement in most years between 2010 and 2019, largely due to declines in estimated population during that time.

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 2019, the largest percentages of Lackawanna County and Luzerne County residents fell into the household income category of $50,000 to $74,999. The same was true for Pennsylvania overall. In both counties, however, more than one in five households have incomes below $25,000 per year; that share is less than one in five for all of Pennsylvania. The number of households with incomes over $100,000 per year was about 20 percent and 22 percent in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties respectively, compared to nearly 30 percent statewide.

Household Income: Lackawanna County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Household Income: Luzerne County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Household Income: Pennsylvania

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Income by Source

In 2019, the income of more than 72 percent of households in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties was earned by working. It was the third consecutive year of growth for Lackawanna County while Luzerne County experienced a slight decrease from the previous year. Throughout the Commonwealth, the percentage of households with earnings remained above 75 percent in 2019, and continued to exceed the rates in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.

The number of households receiving Social Security income declined slightly in 2019 after a prolonged increase in Luzerne County, while remaining relatively stable in Lackawanna County and statewide. As baby boomers continue to retire, the number of regional households relying on Social Security remains high relative to the number in the Commonwealth as a whole.

In 2019, the mean earnings for households with earned income were $72,726 in Lackawanna County and $70,788 in Luzerne County. Both were lower than the $90,297 mean earnings statewide. Lackawanna County’s mean earnings increased by nearly $4,000 in 2019, after falling nearly $5,000 the year before, rebounding to exceed the mean earnings in Luzerne County once again.

Social Security and retirement incomes were much lower. In both counties, households with Social Security income received a mean of just over $19,000 in that type of income. The mean amount of retirement income declined by about $700 in Lackawanna County in 2019 following a significant increase the prior year, while increasing slightly in Luzerne County and statewide.

Income by Source: Lackawanna County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Income by Source: Luzerne County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Income by Source: Pennsylvania

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Per Capita Income

Both counties and the Commonwealth reported increases in unadjusted per capita income of more than 60 percent from 2000 to 2019. Per capita income in both counties was lower than the statewide per capita income, however, and grew at a slightly slower pace during that time.

After accounting for inflation, this change amounts to an increase of about 10 percent in Lackawanna County, seven percent in Luzerne County, and 15 percent statewide. Much of the growth in inflation-adjusted income came between 2014 and 2015 in all three geographies.

Lackawanna Per Capita Income (Inflation Adjusted Dollars)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Luzerne Per Capita Income (Inflation Adjusted Dollars)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Pennsylvania Per Capita Income (Inflation Adjusted Dollars)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Poverty Level

The rate of poverty in the area increased sharply with the increase in unemployment during the last recession. The poverty rate among all people in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties rose significantly between 2000 and 2014, before slowly declining until 2017. Since then, there has been a slight uptick in the poverty rate in Lackawanna County, while the poverty rate in Luzerne County increased by nearly two percentage points over the most recent two years reported to 15.7 percent. The statewide poverty rate has declined steadily for the last four years of data. In almost all years studied, both counties have consistently had poverty rates higher than Pennsylvania as a whole.

The poverty rate among families with children under the age of 18 has been higher than the rate of poverty among the general population. In this statistic, Pennsylvania has experienced a moderate increase over the last few years. Lackawanna County saw a sudden and significant increase of 5.8 percentage points in 2017, and although it fell the following year, it returned to the same rate in 2019. In Luzerne County, the poverty rate for families with children under 18 decreased slightly in 2019, although it still exceeds the rate statewide and in Lackawanna County.

Poverty Level: All People

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Poverty Level: Families with Children Under 18

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Employment by Occupation

In 2019, Lackawanna County and Luzerne County residents again reported that their top two occupation categories were 1) management, business, science and arts occupations; and 2) sales and office occupations. Rounding out third place in Lackawanna County were service occupations. Production, transportation and material moving occupations took third place in Luzerne County. These statistics have fluctuated from year to year in both geographies. Service occupations have experienced the most growth in Lackawanna County, increasing by 16 percent since 2015. In Luzerne County, there has been a 20-percent increase in residents employed in production, transportation, and material moving occupations since 2015, making the number of employees in this category more than double compared to Lackawanna County. 

Employment by Occupation: Lackawanna County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Employment by Occupation: Luzerne County

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Average Annual Pay

From 2009 through 2019, both counties and the state consistently reported steady increases in average annual pay. Through the period analyzed, Lackawanna County had an average growth of two percent per year and Luzerne County averaged 2.4 percent per year (not accounting for inflation). Pennsylvania also averaged 2.4 percent growth per year. Both counties reported average annual pay that was over $12,000 less than the statewide average annual pay. From 2018 to 2019, the statewide average annual pay increased 3.4 percent, exceeding the growth in Lackawanna County of 1.8 percent and Luzerne County of 2.6 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. Otherwise, the population may be growing faster than the job market, which can lead to unemployment as jobs become scarce. A poor job growth to population growth ratio can also indicate that a place 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 2019, both the population and job availability declined in Lackawanna County, with the population declining at a faster rate. Luzerne County experienced a slight decline in population, but positive job growth of 6.5 percent. Job availability and population increased statewide and nationally, with job growth outpacing population growth.

More recently, job growth has overtaken population growth in all four geographies from 2015 to 2019. Job growth was slower in Northeastern Pennsylvania than state and national levels, but amid recent population declines, the ratio still points to a tight labor market.

Job Growth to Population Growth Comparison: 2010 – 2019

Source: US Census Bureau ACS 1-year estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics QCEW

Job Growth to Population Growth Comparison: 2015 – 2019

Source: US Census Bureau ACS 1-year estimates, 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 were Education, Health Care and Social Assistance; Retail Trade; and Professional, Scientific, and Management, and Administrative and Waste Management Services, in that order. In Luzerne County, the top industries were Education, Health Care and Social Assistance; Manufacturing; and Retail Trade, in that order. In 2019, the Education, Health Care and Social Assistance industry comprised approximately one fourth of all jobs in both counties, and the top three industries 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 and the Information industry.

Although the Information industry accounts for a small share of jobs in the region, it also experienced one of the highest growth rates from 2015 to 2019, increasing over 25 percent in both counties. Other fast growing industries in Lackawanna County during this time were Transportation and Warehousing, and Utilities, with growth over 24 percent; and Finance and Insurance, and Real estate and Rental and Leasing, which saw a 22 percent increase in employment. Luzerne County saw significant growth in Other services, except Public Administration (38 percent), and Transportation and Warehousing, and Utilities (25 percent).

In the same period, Lackawanna County logged the largest employment decreases in Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, and Mining, and in Manufacturing. Luzerne County saw decreases in Wholesale trade and Professional, Scientific, and Management, and Administrative and Waste Management Services. Overall, total employment in Lackawanna County declined one percent from 2015 to 2019 across all industries, while increasing over three percent in Luzerne County.

Distribution of Employment by Industry: Lackawanna

Source: U.S. Census Bureau – ACS 1-year Estimates

Distribution of Employment by Industry: Luzerne

Source: U.S. Census Bureau – ACS 1-year Estimates

Number of Employees

The last recession caused significant job losses in Northeastern Pennsylvania and nationally, with large drop-offs in employment following 2008. In the following years, the prevailing state of the economy was one of slow and uneven recovery. While Luzerne County has exceeded its pre-recession employment peak, Lackawanna County has yet to do so. After three years of sustained increases, Lackawanna County saw nearly 1,000 jobs lost in 2019 while Luzerne County and the state continued to experience employment growth. Since 2010, the number of employees increased six percent in Luzerne County, compared to one percent growth in Lackawanna County, and two percent statewide.

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 2010 through 2019. Luzerne County experienced a slow downward trend, though the number grew between 2014 and 2015, and again between 2017 and 2019. Change was less noticeable in Lackawanna County until 2013, which marked the beginning of a steady downward trend in the number of establishments until 2019, when there was a slight uptick. Across the period analyzed, there has been a decline of over three percent in the number of establishments in the two counties, whereas there has been an increase of more than five percent throughout the Commonwealth.

Furthermore, the lack of establishment growth despite some employment gains in recent years suggests that hiring in existing businesses may be driving job growth to a greater degree than new startups or businesses relocating to the region.

Number of Establishments

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics – Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages 4th Quarter

Deed Transactions

Deed transactions measure activity in the real estate market, regarding residential, commercial, and industrial property. Both counties saw sharp declines in deed transactions between 2008 and 2010, coinciding with the collapse of the real estate market nationally and the beginning of the Great Recession. Luzerne County had recorded gradual growth in deed transactions since then, but the number of transactions fluctuated following a significant drop after 2015. In Lackawanna County, the considerable increase recorded from 2011 to 2012 was followed by several years of fluctuation, with mostly positive growth since 2014. Both counties recorded the largest increase in deed transactions in 2020 over the past several years— since 2016 in Lackawanna County and since 2013 in Luzerne County. Overall, the number of transactions have increased by one-third in Lackawanna County since 2011, while falling by 27 percent in Luzerne County.

Deed Transactions

2017 Data for Luzerne County has been revised.
Source(s): Lackawanna & Luzerne Counties’ Recorders of Deeds

GDP Growth

GDP for the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre-Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) increased just over three percent from 2018 to 2019, which was similar to the statewide growth in GDP. There has been GDP growth in all years analyzed.

Since 2010, the region’s GDP growth has amounted to 31.4 percent (not adjusted for inflation), compared to 34.9 percent statewide. Since 2014, the region’s growth was 17.7 percent, compared to 17 percent statewide.

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. Chemical manufacturing has been the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre MSA’s largest goods export category for each of the last several years, with approximately $543 million in exports in 2019. This is less than the prior year by $12M or two percent but is still 56 percent higher than 2017. Food manufacturing was the only industry that saw positive growth in 2019. There was a seven percent decrease in all industry exports in the region, or $118M loss and the residual industries suffered the greatest decline at just over seven percent. All industries not shown account for nearly $495 million in exports, which collectively amount to over $1.6 billion for the region. Export sales in the region have increased by over one-fifth since 2015.


Nearly one third of the region’s exports were to Asian countries, and another third went to Canada and Mexico. The European Union was the region’s third largest global export destination, which accounted for another 15 percent of exports. Since 2015, exports to other destinations have increased the most (71 percent), followed by exports to Africa (50 percent) and Asia (28 percent)

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

Tourism Visitor Spending

In 2019, the most recent year for which data is available, tourism spending increased three percent in the two-county region to more than $1.7 billion. This continues a steady increase in tourism spending in the region as a whole, which has grown by 13 percent since 2014. In Lackawanna County, tourism spending has increased steadily following a substantial increase in 2017. Visitor spending increased more consistently in Luzerne County. From 2014 to 2019, Lackawanna County’s visitor spending increased by nearly nine percent, while Luzerne County’s trended upward by over 16 percent. With the advent of COVID-19, there will likely be a large drop in visitor spending in 2020.

Tourism Visitor Spending (in millions)

Source: Pennsylvania Tourism Office

Student Debt

An average of approximately 21 percent of the two-county region’s population has student loan debt, with Lackawanna County at 23 percent and Luzerne County at 19 percent. Twenty percent of the Commonwealth’s population also has student loan debt. Both counties’ and Pennsylvania’s shares are higher than the nationwide share of 16 percent. The percentage of student loan holders with student loan debt in default is nine percent in Luzerne County, which is lower than the rate of ten percent in Lackawanna County, statewide, and nationally. From data available in 2019 to the current data, the share of borrowers with student loan debt in default fell in each geography analyzed.

Of all analyzed areas, Lackawanna County has the highest median student loan debt (at $22,393), followed by Pennsylvania, and the United States. Luzerne County has the lowest median student loan debt of $19,639. The median monthly payment is highest in Lackawanna County ($190 per month), followed by Pennsylvania ($174), the United States ($160) and Luzerne County ($157). The median debt amount approximately correlates with college educational attainment; the share of student debtholders and median loan amount increases with the share of population holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Student Loan Debt: 2021

Source: Urban Institute, last updated 3/31/2021

Student Loan Debt: 2021

Source: Urban Institute, last updated 3/31/2021

Federal Awards 2019

This indicator tracks federal funding in the forms 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 two counties together receive nearly $1.53 billion in federal contracts and grants. The largest portion of this total consists of federal prime contracts.

Federal Awards 2019