Dayton region sees job growth in 2021, but still below pre-pandemic level

Crews work on infrastructure project at Ludlow and West Third streets on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Crews work on infrastructure project at Ludlow and West Third streets on Wednesday. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Dayton region’s economy ended 2021 on a high note after employers increased hiring again for the fourth consecutive month, according to recently released labor data.

The modest employment growth means the three-county region gained 8,300 jobs in 2021, which was third largest annual tally since 1990, according to seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which only date back that far.

But like many other urban areas, the Dayton region remains in a fairly deep hole because of massive layoffs early in the pandemic.

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Labor statistics for Montgomery County. CONTRIBUTED

Labor statistics for Montgomery County. CONTRIBUTED

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Labor statistics for Montgomery County. CONTRIBUTED

The Dayton area and Ohio face some challenges, though they have seen steady economic improvements, said Michael Shields, a researcher with liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio.

“Ohio is restoring jobs more than twice as fast as we recovered from the Great Recession, which was hampered by austerity policies,” he said.

Last month, payrolls in the Dayton metro area increased by 600 jobs (+0.2%), after increasing in November by 2,400 jobs (+0.6%), according to preliminary seasonally adjusted data that will be revised and typically changes.

The metro area — which consists of Montgomery, Miami and Greene counties — saw employment growth in the last four months of 2021, and it has a streak of year-over-year job gains that dates back to April.

Until October, the Dayton metro area had shed workers in six of the 10 preceding months.

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Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.5% in December. CONTRIBUTED

Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.5% in December. CONTRIBUTED

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Ohio's unemployment rate was 4.5% in December. CONTRIBUTED

2021 saw the region add more new jobs than all but two other years in the last three decades.

But that followed a year in which the region slashed 22,000 workers — far more than any other year during that timeframe.

About 378,700 people were employed in the three-county region last month, which means employers need to add 16,200 jobs to return payrolls to the pre-pandemic level of February 2020, according to data from the Current Employment Statistics program.

COVID remains a threat to the economy, especially with the surging omicron variant, said Shields, with Policy Matters Ohio.

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AES employees work on West Second Street in downtown Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

AES employees work on West Second Street in downtown Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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AES employees work on West Second Street in downtown Dayton. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Many parents have not returned to the workforce or to pre-pandemic work schedules because of a lack of good child care options, he said.

The Dayton region’s labor force — the number of people working or seeking work — remains far below pre-pandemic levels.

The Dayton region’s unemployment rate was 3.5% in November, which was the lowest rate since the spring of 2019. In this tight labor market, many employers are offering sign-on bonuses, higher wages and flexible schedules.

Many people who have been sitting on sidelines not working during the pandemic are starting to reenter the workforce, said Doug Barry, president of BarryStaff, an employment staffing agency.

“I am more confident now than I was two weeks ago,” he said. “We are moving in the right direction.”

Companies have struggled to fill job openings, and many have had to make talent attraction and retention a special focus, Barry said.

“There is a huge need for workers across the spectrum,” he said.

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