Ohio unemployment lowest in more than 4 years

Ohio beats U.S. rate, better since Aug. 2008

Ohio’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent last month — the lowest rate in more than four years — as the Buckeye State added a robust 13,900 nonfarm jobs, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reported Friday.

Unemployment in Ohio is now at its lowest level since August 2008 — the first full year of the Great Recession — and is a full percentage point lower than the national rate and down from a revised statewide rate of 7.1 percent in September, according to the jobs report.

But the state still has a long way to go to recover from one of the most severe and prolonged economic downturns in modern times, said Hannah Halbert, a policy analyst and researcher who keeps tabs on state jobs numbers for the Cleveland-based think-tank Policy Matter Ohio.

“It’s so easy to look at these numbers, especially when we have such good news as we had in this month’s report, and get carried away and miss the big picture,” Halbert said. “We’re headed in the right direction, but we need many more months like this to get us back on track.”

According to Policy Matters, Ohio would have to create 10,000 jobs per month to return to pre-recession levels of employment in three years. And while the October report was encouraging, according to many labor experts, it came on the heels of lackluster September report that showed a revised loss of 12,000 jobs, resulting in a net gain of 1,900 over the past two months.

Since the recession ended in June 2009, Ohio has recovered 141,100 jobs, or about 38 percent of the nearly 370,000 jobs lost during the downturn, figures from the state jobs department show.

But simply recouping the remaining deficit of 228,500 jobs lost during the recession will not be enough to bring Ohio back to full employment, Halbert said. At least 122,200 jobs would have to be added to the economy just to accommodate new workers who have entered the labor force since the start of the recession, based on her calculations.

“The jobs deficit is a staggering 350,700 jobs” when population growth is factored in, Halbert said. “We certainly need to recover the jobs that were lost during the recession, but we also have to account for increasing population.”

The Ohio labor force added 14,000 in October, the largest monthly gain in more than a decade. The size if the labor force is still down by more than 40,000 since May, but the recent uptick in labor force participation is a sign that the unemployment rate is declining for the right reasons, said Bill LaFayette of the Columbus-based economic development and consulting firm, Regionomics.

“What we’re looking for is an increase in the labor force and the number of people working, and we go both of those last month,” he said.

The number of unemployed Ohioans fell by 10,000 last month, and the number of unemployed workers in Ohio has declined by 88,000 over the past year. At the same time, Ohio has added 96,500 jobs, and in September ranked fourth nationally for total job growth behind California, Texas and New York, government data shows.

The U.S. Department of Labor is scheduled to release a comprehensive list of unemployment rates and employment figures for states and local areas on Tuesday.

One of the few sour notes in the October jobs report was the continued decline in manufacturing, which had been leading the jobs recovery in Ohio. The state’s manufacturing industry shed 2,200 jobs last month on top of decline of 6,400 manufacturing jobs in September.

But the numbers may not be as ominous as they appear, LaFayette said.

“Just because the total number of jobs is declining does not mean there are no employment opportunities in manufacturing, either in the short-term or long-term,” he said. “In the short-term, there’s always churn. And in the long-term, there will be a tremendous wave of retirements hitting manufacturing in the next few years creating opportunities for those with the proper training.”

Overall, the decline in manufacturing was more than covered by better-than-expected job growth in sectors that have been hit hard by layoffs or slack demand.

The government sector, which has posted the largest year-over-year decline in employment, gained 5,200 jobs last month, second only to professional and business services, which added 7,300 jobs.

Meanwhile, educational and health services and other services, posted a net gain of 6,500 jobs last month.

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