State unemployment rate reaches highest level in 20 months

Ohio’s unemployment rate in October rose slighty to 7.5 percent, even though the state says it added jobs in the past two months, according to data released Friday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

State estimates on jobs, the civilian labor force and unemployed workers come from two different surveys, which produced slightly different results, officials said.

But the employment trends are consistent with an economy in recovery that is growing at a very slow pace, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for Job and Family Services.

Nonfarm employment in the state increased by 200 workers in September and 2,400 more in October, the data show. Job figures for September were delayed because of the partial government shutdown.

Despite those statistics, Ohio’s unemployment rate increased 0.1 percent in both September and October, rising to 7.5 percent, its highest level since February 2012.

The state’s labor force contracted again last month, and fewer Ohioans were employed or looking for work than any time since the late 1990s.

“Ohio is adding jobs, but it is adding jobs slowly,” Johnson said. “The economic improvement has not moved in a straight line up until this point, and probably won’t in the immediate future.”

In the past two months, Ohio’s job growth was about average, ranking 22nd in the nation.

Between August and October, the state added the most jobs in leisure and hospitality (up 8,500); arts, entertainment and recreation (5,700); and construction (4,500). Accommodation and food services added 2,800 workers, and retail trade added 2,600.

The growth in construction employment is encouraging given that real estate and rental and leasing also saw employment gains of 2,000, Johnson said.

Job growth in these industries suggests the housing and commercial construction markets are on the mend, he said.

But the job gains were offset by losses in local government ( down 5,000 workers), administrative, support and waste services (5,000), state government (3,000), and education and health services (1,600).

The payroll survey of employers around the state showed an increase in jobs, but a separate household survey of residents showed more unemployed workers, Johnson said.

The change in the numbers are so small that the survey results are not irreconcilable.

“They moved in opposite directions, but in both cases we are talking about relatively small changes within a much larger job market,” Johnson said. “We are talking about 2,600 jobs out of 5.2 million, and we’re talking about an increase of 8,000 unemployed out of 5.7 million that are either working or looking for work.”

Ohio’s labor force was smaller in October at 5.73 million workers than when the recession ended in June 2009, when 5.94 million people were either employed or actively seeking employment, said Hannah Halbert, workforce researcher for Policy Matters Ohio.

In fact, Ohio’s labor force last month was smaller than during any month since September 1997.

The state’s civilian labor force has been declining because the number of women entering the workforce has leveled off, more young people are enrolling in school, older workers are reaching retirement and many workers remain on the sidelines, experts said.

Ohio’s unemployment rate has risen for four consecutive months, and the state’s jobless rate in October topped the national average for the first time in two years, Halbert said.

Unemployment nationwide last month stood at 7.3 percent.

In the past year, Ohio’s job growth rate was just 0.5 percent while the nation experienced a much better rate of 1.7 percent, Halbert said.

“Unfortunately, state job growth has continued to stall during the past two months,” she said.

Ohio’s streak of subpar job growth has reached 16 consecutive months, and at the current growth rate it would take the state an astonishing 16 years to recover the jobs lost during the recession, said George Zeller, an economic research analyst in Cleveland.

Austerity policies, including sequestration, are contributing to the economic slowdown and put many jobs tied to government at risk, he said.

“The new figures were alarming and highly negative across the board,” he said.

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