Ohio’s unemployment climbs as employers cut workers

A worker cleans the outside of a Brown Street business earlier this month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
A worker cleans the outside of a Brown Street business earlier this month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Ohio’s unemployment rate increased last month for the first time since early in the pandemic when state officials initially issued a stay-at-home order, according to state data released Monday.

The state also lost more jobs in May than in any month since April 2020, when employers shed an astonishing number of workers following coronavirus-related lockdown measures.

But some industries that were pummeled during the public health crisis like leisure and hospitality are showing signs of recovery as more and more Ohioans get vaccinated.

Concerts, sporting events and other types of live entertainment have resumed, and consumers have shifted some of their spending from retail products to services.

But Ohio’s restaurant industry, a major employment sector, is struggling to fill openings even though business is picking up and more people are dining out again.

“Most of our restaurants are running shorthanded right now,” said John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association.

Ohio’s unemployment rate rose to 5% in May from 4.7% in April, according to preliminary and seasonally adjusted data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The unemployment rate was 4.7% in March, after dropping from 5.3% in February.

The jobless rate skyrocketed to 16.4% in April 2020, which came after the statewide stay-at-home order.

After that, the rate decreased in eight of the 11 subsequent months and remained flat three times.

Ohio's payroll employment May 2020 to May 2021
Ohio's payroll employment May 2020 to May 2021

The number of unemployed workers rose last month as nonfarm employers cut 14,800 jobs.

Employers also lost 8,000 workers in April, according to revised labor data, and the state hasn’t had two consecutive months of job growth since last fall, when a five-month streak of gains was broken.

A customer of Dewey's Pizza in Dayton walks by a "We're Hiring" sign. The Dayton region added 1,200 jobs last month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
A customer of Dewey's Pizza in Dayton walks by a "We're Hiring" sign. The Dayton region added 1,200 jobs last month. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

In May, industries with some of the largest shares of job losses included real estate and rental leasing (-1,700 jobs); non-durable goods manufacturing (-4,400); financial activities (-3,400); and transportation, warehousing and utilities (-2,400).

Ohio’s payrolls shrank last month, while U.S. employment grew by 559,00 new workers.

Last month, Ohio’s leisure and hospitality industry added 2,300 workers (+0.5%).

The arts, entertainment and recreation sector was responsible for 3,300 new jobs (+5%), but accommodation and food services chopped 1,000 workers (-0.2%).

Entertainment and recreation venues that were shut down last year are reopening.

The Dayton Dragons resumed playing baseball at Day Air Ballpark last month to limited-capacity crowds, and the stadium returned to full capacity during an early June homestand.

Dragons fans enter the ballpark Tuesday evening, May 25, 2021, after spending some time in the hot spring sun. It was the warmest day of the year so far with the high temperature reported at 88 degrees in Dayton and Cincinnati, which is more than 10 degrees above normal. JIM NOELKER / STAFF
Dragons fans enter the ballpark Tuesday evening, May 25, 2021, after spending some time in the hot spring sun. It was the warmest day of the year so far with the high temperature reported at 88 degrees in Dayton and Cincinnati, which is more than 10 degrees above normal. JIM NOELKER / STAFF

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

The state’s accommodations and food services sector employed 415,700 workers last month, but many restaurants are struggling to fill job openings.

Many restaurant workers who were furloughed last year when establishments shut down or severely scaled back operations found new jobs, which hurt the industry, said Barker, with the Ohio Restaurant Association.

To cope with a worker shortage, restaurants are operating on reduced hours, sometimes closing at lunch or closing early or not opening their doors on certain days, he said.

Unemployed workers are still receiving “generous” enhanced unemployment benefits from the federal government, but the state is ending the federal benefits early, later this week, he said.

He said he suspects some jobless Ohioans will seek out work when the benefits expire.

Some restaurants saw an uptick in job applications when the state announced the federal benefits are coming to an end, Barker said.

He also said some people would be in the workforce if they had not lost childcare during the pandemic.

Employers may have to offer flexible schedules and accommodate workers in other ways to remain competitive, he said.

Fast-food restaurants Chipolte Mexican Grill, Wendy’s and White Castle are among the more than 70 companies with job openings that will participate in an online summer job fair from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

The event, which is being hosted by Montgomery County, will showcase hundreds of local job opportunities, said Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge.

“Many people are still out of work because of the pandemic, and events like this will help make those connections between employers and workers,” she said in a prepared statement.

People can register for by visiting www.TheJobCenter.org/JobFair.

Michael Shields, a researcher with liberal-leaning Policy Matters Ohio, said more Ohioans have been laid off in three out of the five full months of 2021.

He said it is premature to end the enhanced unemployment benefits early.

“While preliminary numbers are subject to change, the trend of the last few months is clear: Ohio’s recovery has slowed to a crawl, leaving out hundreds of thousands of Ohioans,” he said.