Ohio unemployment figures released Friday showed a slight decline in the monthly jobless rate, but the positive trend was overshadowed by a continued decline in employment that has culled nearly 10,000 jobs from the state’s economy over the past two months.
Still, state officials and labor market researchers cautioned against reading too much into the monthly figures, which showed Ohio lost 5,700 jobs in April and 4,100 jobs in March, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which reported the unemployment rate dipped to 5 percent from 5.1 percent over the same period.
“The monthly numbers are preliminary and subject to revision, so it is best not to make too much of the month-to-month changes, but (Friday’s) report is still concerning,” said Hannah Halbert, a labor market researcher with Policy Matters Ohio. “April’s declines compound our losses in March. It’s also a departure from the national trend.”
Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent in April — the lowest level in a decade — and the economy added a solid 211,000 jobs. The national unemployment rate shows how far the U.S. economy has come since the Great Recession ended in 2009, when unemployment reached 10 percent.
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But Ohio’s rate is back to the same level it was at a year ago, and job growth has failed to pick up as many analysts had expected.
The biggest job losses last month were in construction and manufacturing, which shed 7,400 and 5,800 jobs, respectively, according to the state jobs report. The losses offset gains in professional and business services, which added 6,100 jobs last month, and leisure and hospitality, where employment was up by 5,000.
The slowdown in construction hiring was not entirely unexpected because most construction workers were hired earlier in the year, according to Jon Keeling, a spokesman for the state jobs department, who was quick to point out that construction jobs are up by a healthy 8,200 since the end of last year.
The decrease in the manufacturing sector was largely the result of temporary layoffs by Chrysler as they shift production of the Jeep Cherokee out of Toledo to make room for the next generation Jeep Wrangler, Keeling said. Chrysler has indicated all of those jobs will return.
Most working-aged Ohioans remained confident in such promises, based on the growth last month in the state’s labor force — or the number of people working or actively seeking jobs — which grew by more than 21,000. That pushed the state’s labor force participation rate to 63.1 percent — slightly above the national rate of 62.9 percent in April.
“Workers enter the labor force when they have confidence in the economy, and Ohio’s labor force has been surging over the past year,” said Keeling, who noted Ohio’s labor force has grown by 76,000 over the past 12 months.
While the increase in the state’s labor force — which is based on household interviews conducted each month by the U.S. Census Bureau — was a bright spot in the jobs report, the number can be misleading, according to Orphe Divounguy, an economist with the The Buckeye Institute in Columbus.
“The household survey a lot of times just reflects confidence people have in their job prospects,” Divounguy said. “If you only looked at the household survey, you might think all of these people came into the workforce and found jobs because the unemployment rate is down. But when you look at at wage and emp0loyment estimates for Ohio based on surveys of actual employers, what you see is a decrease” in employment.
Still, Divounguy said the overall labor market picture remains positive based on trends for the U.S. economy that reflect increased labor market tightness, which should lead to higher wages, more part-time workers finding full-time jobs and a declining number of discouraged workers.