U.S. economy adds 313K jobs, local employers struggle to find workers

Good news for workers in Ohio and across the U.S. on Friday underscored the difficulty that some employers in this region are feeling: difficulty finding employees.

New employment numbers released indicated the labor market continued to tighten.

The Ohio unemployment rate dropped in January to 4.7 percent, down from 4.9 percent in December. The number of non-agricultural Ohio workers employed increased by 12,100.

Nationally, the unemployment rate stayed at 4.1 percent in February, but the U.S. experienced its biggest increase in jobs in more than 1-1/2 years with 313,000 jobs.

Jim Zahora, president of Noble Tool Corp. in Dayton, said he is feeling it.

The custom tool maker with a staff of 25 has had a sign on the side of its building for over a year advertising that the company is “seeking good people.”

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“And we haven’t taken it down yet, because we haven’t found enough people,” Zahora said.

U.S. average wage growth, however, slowed between January and February.

In Ohio, the construction industry had some of the biggest gains, reporting a 2,600 job increase since December.

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Eric Rees, vice president at Shook Construction, said construction is a cyclical business and right now there’s more demand for work.

“Right now we’re seeing a strong economy and more capital improvement projects from private owners as well as municipalities and government owners,” he said.

For manufacturing, in Ohio the number of jobs dropped by 1,400 in January compared to December, though is still up 7,600 jobs from January 2017.

Angelia Erbaugh, president of Dayton Region Manufacturers Association, said she continues to hear that companies can’t find the workers they need and it’s stopping some local manufacturers from going after contracts because they don’t have the labor to take on more work.

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“Many members consistently talk about we are either turning away work or I have other jobs waiting for me to accept if I could get the work done,” she said.

Zahora, of Noble Tool Corp., said he has somewhat better luck hiring entry level workers, but significantly struggles to find skilled tool makers with years of experience. It can take time to work your way up with wages and if, while unemployment is low, people go into other jobs, then the industry isn’t building up its next generation of skilled machinists.

“We’ve lost so many people who didn’t get into the trade,” he said.

As the economy improves, some are still left behind.

The U.S. job report found racial disparities still persist. Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for black job seekers declined to 6.9 percent in February compared to 3.7 percent for whites, 2.9 percent for Asians, and 4.9 percent for Hispanics.

Phyllis A. Cummins, senior research scholar at the Scripps Gerontology Center, said as employers have trouble finding workers, they are becoming more amenable to hiring older workers.

She said older adults can have more trouble finding work because of things like perceived shortcomings in technology skills and those who lost their jobs in manufacturing in the recession then struggled to find jobs that could replace the wages they were making.

“It still has been an issue that when older adults become unemployed that they are unemployed for longer,” she said.

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