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Local jobless rates lowest in 3 years

Unemployment down fifth month in a row.

Local unemployment rates are below 7 percent for the first time in more than three years, according to data released Tuesday.

Unemployment rates in Clark and Champaign counties also are down for the fifth month in a row, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Clark County’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 7.3 percent in April to 6.9 percent in May. In Springfield, the rate is down from 7.6 percent to 7.4 percent.

In Champaign County, unemployment in May was at 6.8 percent, down from 7.2 percent in April.

“We’re headed in the right direction,” said Lehan Peters, deputy director of Job and Family Services of Clark County and WorkPlus One-Stop Center. “We’re trending up and seeing more job postings.”

Peters said staffing agencies have increasingly been seeking employees through WorkPlus.

Job officials from Champaign County and Urbana were unavailable for comment, but Staffmark — a staffing agency — has been hosting recruitment fairs at the Champaign Technology and Employment Center.

Recent hirings include available jobs at Code Blue in Springfield. The Wisconsin-based insurance claims processing company is looking to hire between 10 and 12 people for second and third shifts at the local call center, said Hope Rice, human resources recruiter.

While signs point to an improving local economy, a declining unemployment rate is also due to an increasing number of people exhausting their unemployment.

Since March, 565 people have run out of unemployment in Clark County, according to ODJFS. In Champaign County, 142 have run out during that time.

“When you’re looking at unrecorded unemployment, it becomes difficult to give an accurate figure,” Peters said.

Amy Donahoe, director of hiring and employer services for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, said she recently attended a national conference on employment and that many states are performing well.

“Specifically, manufacturing and aerospace have a lot of growth potential,” she said.

Manufacturing jobs have been on the rise at places such as Navistar International Corp., whose local plant began hiring again for the first time in almost a decade. However recent developments — a second-quarter net loss of $172 million and activist investor Mark Rachesky’s new status as the company’s largest shareholder — bring some doubt about the Springfield plant’s future.

“We’re in an uncertain period,” said John Detrick, county commissioner. “If the hedge fund buyer were to take over control and there was a change in management, it could cause changes here. But then again, new management could bring good changes.”

Navistar officials were unavailable for comment.

Peters said there may be an increase in unemployment when seasonal jobs end in the fall.

And economists are concerned that the jobs that are increasing don’t pay enough to really boost economic improvement.

“This area has lost a lot of relatively high-paying manufacturing jobs, so even if we are seeing the unemployment rate come down, I’m concerned about how much those jobs are paying people,” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, a Wright State University economics professor. “That has some implications for how strong the recovery is going to be, because if income is down, it’s going to slow the growth of consumer spending, which is one of the big drivers of job growth.’’

Randy Tucker contributed to this report. Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0371 or