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Ohio added jobs in December

Ohio ended 2013 on a positive note by adding 5,000 jobs in December, and the state’s unemployment also rate ticked down to 7.2 percent, according to preliminary data released Friday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The modest gains were the best payroll growth since May. The state had one of the worst job losses in the nation in November.

Overall, 2013 was a turbulent year for Ohio’s labor market, with employers adding large numbers of workers one month, and then cutting nearly as many in subsequent months.

Last year, none of Ohio’s industries added jobs for more than five consecutive months. But by the same token, only one sector shed jobs for more than five consecutive months.

Slow recovery

The state’s economy is recovering, but at such a slow rate that it can feel like treading water instead of actually improvement, economists said.

“The December 2013 increase of only 5,000 jobs in Ohio was a continuation of other weak recent months when Ohio lost employment or gained jobs too slowly,” said George Zeller, an economic research analyst in Cleveland. “The new figures mean that the speed at which Ohio is gaining jobs during an economic recovery continues to be dramatically too slow.”

Nonfarm employment in Ohio rose 0.1 percent in December to 5,200,600 workers, according to the preliminary data.

The growth came after Ohio led the nation in job declines the prior month, even though the November losses were revised downward to 7,000 from a preliminary estimate of 12,000, revised data show. Labor data for all U.S. states will not be released until Tuesday.

December capped a wild year of ups and downs for Ohio’s job market.

Ohio added jobs in seven out of 12 months in 2013, but the growth never lasted longer than two consecutive months. Ohio several times experienced the worst or second worst job losses in the country.

When the state added jobs, it occasionally saw decent gains. Ohio’s monthly job growth matched or outpaced the nation’s four times in 2013.

But U.S. payrolls have steadily expanded for 39 consecutive months, while Ohio’s are stuck on a pendulum, swinging back and forth between losses and gains.

“The state saw big gains and big losses in early 2013, and while the size of the monthly fluctuations has shrunk, the overall pattern has remained the same,” said Hannah Halbert, workforce researcher for the liberal leaning think-tank Policy Matters Ohio. “We are on a job-growth seesaw, producing weak growth. It’s not the upward trajectory that Ohio workers so desperately need.”

Construction saw biggest growth

In December, some of the state’s best job growth was in construction (+4,000 workers), professional and business services (+3,400), leisure and hospitality (+2,400), manufacturing (+1,400) and mining and logging (+200).

Losses occurred in educational and health services (-3,700 workers); trade, transportation, and utilities (-1,500); finance and insurance (-900); state government (-700); and information (-400).

Ohio’s information sector has shed workers for 10 months straight, which is the longest active streak. Finance and insurance employers have cut workers for five months in a row.

The retail trade sector has one of the longest current streaks of job gains (three months), and the sector has not lost workers since May. Nondurable goods manufacturing has also increased hiring for three months.

December extended another streak, which was Ohio’s unemployment rate being above the national average.

Last month, Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percent to 7.2 percent. But the U.S. average was 6.7 percent, and some of the decline was attributable to people dropping out of the labor force.

Ohio’s unemployment rate had been lower than the U.S. average for 32 months in a row. But it moved higher than the national rate in August, and has exceeded it ever since.

The unemployment rate typically increases when more people enter the labor force in search of jobs, and that has been happening in Ohio, said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

After years of steady declines, Ohio’s labor force expanded in both November and December. In the last year, it’s grown by 9,000 people.

“Unemployment is higher in part because the labor force has stabilized and started to grow,” Johnson said.

To be in the labor force, people must be employed or unemployed and actively looking for work. People drop out of the labor force when they stop looking for employment.

Monthly jobs data is highly volatile, and experts caution against reading too much into the numbers for any one month, especially because they will be revised later.

But the bigger economic picture is not encouraging, economists said.

In the last year, Ohio overall has created 25,600 nonfarm jobs, and the private sector has fared only slightly better, hiring 35,100 additional workers.

Meanwhile, the public sector remains a drag on the economy. In the last 12 months, the state’s government payrolls decreased by 9,500 workers, and losses were concentrated in local government (-7,800).

“And that not just represents jobs being lost — you know, people losing jobs and hurting our job growth total — but it also represents local services being in decline,” Halbert said.

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