Berks County appears to be recovering from the national recession of 2008-09, with an unemployment rate and an employment-to-population ratio that are slightly outperforming Pennsylvania and nation. However, there also are a few warning signs, including an average salary increase that is smaller than both the state and national level, and relatively high spending by county government and schools.  

Unemployment rates are a timely indicator of changes in the local employment landscape. In 2020, Berks County’s unemployment rate was 9.5%, higher than the nation and similar to Pennsylvania. 

The employment-to-population ratio also offers an indicator of the availability of work in a region. The ratio in Berks was 61% in 2015-19, slightly higher than Pennsylvania and the nation. Between 2000 and 2015-19, the county’s ratio declined 1 percentage point. 

Changes in the size of the labor force indicate people’s willingness and ability to find work. From 2000 to 2020, Berks County’s labor force increased 8%, a larger increase than at the state level, but less than at the national level.

Employment changes by sector paint a picture of the county’s changing economy. The total number of jobs in Berks County increased 12% from 2001 to 2019, but the Professional and Business Services sector grew 32% during this period, while Manufacturing jobs declined 16%. Trade, Transportation and Utilities was up slightly, by 4%.

The share of jobs by sector is a key indicator of the structure of the economy in a region. In 2019, Trade, Transportation and Utilities made up the largest sector in Berks, accounting for 18% of jobs. Professional and Business Services comprised 14% of jobs, a similar share to the nation and even with the state. Other key sectors were Manufacturing, 14%; Health Care and Social Assistance, 14%; and Government, 10%.

Average salaries also are a gauge of the degree to which employees are sharing in the prosperity of particular industries. In 2019, the three highest-paid sectors in Berks County were Financial Activities, with an average salary of $77,100, Construction, at $64,800, and Professional and Business Services, at $62,600.

Changes in salaries by sector offer a more detailed view of economic health in specific industries. Between 2000 and 2019, the average salary for Berks workers increased 8%, less than the state and nation. Most economic sectors in Berks had increases in average salaries during this period, but the extent varied widely, from a 38% increase in Financial Activities to a 20% decline in Educational Services.

Commuters entering and leaving a county is an indicator of its economic vitality and ability to draw employers and employees from surrounding areas. It may also reflect the quality of the match between the jobs available in an area and the skills of its resident workforce. In 2018, 45% of Berks County residents commuted outside the county for work, up 10 percentage points since 2002. Also in 2018, 39% of people who worked in Berks had traveled there from another county. The City of Reading, in contrast, had 86% of city residents commute out of the city, while 80% of the city’s workers commuted in from elsewhere.

Per capita income from governmental programs is one way to measure a region’s level of poverty. In 2019, Berks County received $3,200 in public assistance income per resident, less than Pennsylvania, but more than the nation. Between 2001 and 2019, public assistance per resident in Berks County increased 93% (after inflation), compared to 79% statewide and 55% nationally.

Local government spending per capita can indicate the level of services provided, as well as the cost of taxes, a potential hindrance to development. Local governments in Berks County spent $1,132 per resident in 2018, up 14% from 2000, but down from $1,597 in 2008. Local government spending was higher across Pennsylvania than in Berks.

County government spending is a similar indicator, but at the county level. Berks County government spent just over $1,050 per resident in 2017, down from $1,090 in 2000. County government spending across Pennsylvania has been consistently lower than Berks since 2000.

Spending of school districts show a community’s support for public education. Schools in Berks County spent $2,915 per resident in 2019, up 44% from $2,024 in 2001. Berks spent more per resident than Pennsylvania in 2019, and has spent more than the state each year since 2001. 

Adults Who are Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Students in K-6 Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Students in 7-12 Overweight or Obese Not Applicable
Physically Inactive Adults Not Applicable
Students Eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch Increasing
Early Prenatal Care Increasing
Early Prenatal Care by Mother's Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Children Living in Poverty Increasing
Children Living in Poverty, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Single-Parent Families Increasing
Single-Parent Families by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Disengaged Youth Decreasing
Live Births to Teen Mothers Decreasing
Population by Age Not Applicable
Children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels Maintaining
Change in Population by Age and Gender Not Applicable
Change in Total Population by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Households by type Not Applicable
Foreign-Born Population Increasing
Seniors Living Alone Maintaining
Language Diversity Increasing
Unemployment Rate Increasing
Change in Labor Force Decreasing
Employment to Population ratio Decreasing
Change in Jobs by Sector Not Applicable
Sector Share of Total Jobs Not Applicable
Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
Change in Average Salary by Sector Not Applicable
People Entering/Leaving County/Region for Work Not Applicable
Public Assistance Maintaining
Spending for Local Governments Maintaining
Spending for Counties Maintaining
Spending for School Districts Maintaining
Prekindergarten Participation Increasing
English Language Learners Increasing
Students Receiving Special Education Services Increasing
Per Student Spending Maintaining
High School Cohort Graduation Rate Increasing
Education Levels of Adults Not Applicable
Education Levels of Adults, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Brain Drain/Gain Maintaining
Plans of High School Graduates Not Applicable
Enrollment in Local Colleges Decreasing
Median Household Income Maintaining
Median Household Income by Household Type Not Applicable
Living Wage Not Applicable
People Living in Poverty Increasing
Working Poor Maintaining
People Receiving Federal Food Assistance Increasing
People Receiving Supplemental Security Income Increasing
Health Status Not Applicable
People Enrolled in Medicaid Managed Care Increasing
People Without Health Insurance Decreasing
Cancer Incidence Decreasing
Prevalence of Mental Illness Maintaining
Vacant Housing Units Increasing
Homeownership Rates Decreasing
Cost of Homeownership Maintaining
Cost of Homeownership, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Cost of Rent Increasing
Cost of Rent, by Race/Ethnicity Not Applicable
Single-Family Home Sales Increasing
Median Single-Family Home Sale Price Maintaining
Tourism Spending Maintaining
Voter Registration Rate Decreasing
Voter Participation Rate Decreasing
Average Charitable Giving Maintaining
Contributions as a Percentage of Income Maintaining
Households With Internet Access Not Applicable
Arts, Entertainment and Recreation Establishments Maintaining
Toxic Chemical Releases Decreasing
Violent Crimes Maintaining
Property Crimes Decreasing
Incarceration Rates Maintaining
Drug Abuse Offenses Increasing
Drug Abuse Arrests Increasing
Protection from Domestic Abuse Maintaining
Average Travel Time to Work Increasing
Crashes Involving Alcohol Decreasing
Households Without Vehicles Decreasing