Pandemic job losses: Ohio has ‘quite a ways to go’ to full recovery

With job recovery stalled since November, Ohio added 31,300 jobs in June, including 4,000 in the Dayton region. But it’s too early to tell if the gains signal a rebound that will bring back all the jobs lost in the state since the pandemic began, according to economists.

“That’s progress that we had not seen for several months,” said Michael Shields, a Policy Matters Ohio researcher. “We can’t make too much out of just one month, but if this trend continues it’s definitely a good sign.”

After June’s gain, the state has clawed its way back to 94.8% of pre-pandemic employment, but the figure is still 289,100 jobs short of February 2020 figures, according to Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.

“We still have quite a ways to go to have a full recovery,” Shields said.

The Dayton metropolitan statistical area gained 4,000 jobs over May with 354,100 employed in June. Labor force participation in the region which includes Greene, Miami and Montgomery counties was up 8,600 from May to 378,000, according to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.

Despite the gain, the Dayton region is still down 15,000 jobs from before the pandemic, said Richard Stock, director of the University of Dayton’s Business Research Group.

“There are a lot of people out there that clearly — whatever the official unemployment rate is — still want to work, because they were working two years ago. It’s not like they all of a sudden decided ‘I’m not interested in labor force participation,’” he said.

Of the statewide June jobs gains, 19,000 were in the private-sector — more than half, 10,600, coming from the hospitality and leisure sector as Ohioans returned to dining out and travel. But the increase didn’t surpass more recent losses, said Rea S. Hederman Jr., executive director of the Economic Research Center at The Buckeye Institute.

“Although this month’s jobs report is stronger than last month’s, it does not fully offset May’s losses and some concerning signs remain,” Hederman said.

Hederman called “disappointing” a 0.3% increase in Ohio’s labor force participation between May and June. The participation rate in June was 60.2% compared to 63.7% in February last year before the pandemic.

Overall, Ohio’s nonagricultural wage and salary employment increased 31,300 over the month, from a revised 5,289,500 in May to 5,320,800 in June, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. June’s numbers are also subject to revision, according to the state.

After the unemployment rate steadily declined as people returned to work following the peak of the pandemic, both the state and local jobless figures climbed in June for the second month in a row.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate statewide rose in June to 5.2% from 5% in May, mirroring a slight increase nationally. Household survey data showed 291,000 Ohioans unemployed in June, up from 278,000 in May.

Unadjusted June unemployment figures were also higher in the Dayton metropolitan statistical area, rising from 5.2% in May to 6.3%. Montgomery County’s rate climbed from 5.7% in May to 6.8%. The city of Dayton also experienced a 1.1% monthly unemployment increase to 8.6% in June, according to the Ohio Bureau of Labor Market Information.

Because more people are actively seeking work, the unemployment increases should not be interpreted negatively, according to the economists.

“Even though the unemployment rate ticked up by two tenths, it’s not really bad news because the labor force participation rates increased more, we had more people employed,” Hederman said.

Unemployment figures are derived from only people currently employed and looking for jobs, discounting those who have given up looking for work.

“The official unemployment rate, if anything, it’s good news because the bottom line is, we have more jobs than we did a month ago,” Stock said.

Hederman said economists are in uncharted territory as they watch the labor market recover from the pandemic.

“I’m very curious to see what the next few months bring … Getting back to full employment is a little bit harder now,” he said. “We are on track (but) it’s just not going to be as speedy a recovery as maybe the labor market indicated at the first part of the spring.”

But the economists diverge on how best to clear remaining hurdles.

Next month’s jobs report will be the first after Ohio ended a $300 weekly federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance on June 26.

“We will see the impact Gov. DeWine’s wise decision to decline federal unemployment funds, which will encourage more Ohioans to enter the labor market,” Hederman said.

Shields said the governor’s decision to cut off the enhanced federal unemployment benefits will slow recovery.

“It’s going to cost us right around a billion dollars in federal revenue that won’t be coming into Ohio. That’s money that was desperately needed by folks who had been displaced from work,” he said. “It’s also consumer spending that isn’t going to happen. It’s revenue that isn’t going to come to Ohio businesses.”

DeWine and Matt Damschroder, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, are being sued in Cuyahoga County to restore the payments.

Stock said COVID-related concerns remain the dominant barrier to workforce participation and a full recovery.

“There are still issues out there that are not resolved,” he said. “There are fundamental questions that have to be addressed about safety for employees … There seems to be people who don’t understand that their behavior is going to influence the safety for all kinds of frontline workers.”

“From the economist’s perspective, if people want to see job growth continue, then they should have a tremendous investment in more people getting vaccinated,” Stock said.

By the numbers

31,300: Ohio jobs added in June.

4,000: Dayton region jobs added June.

6.3%: Dayton region unemployment rate.

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