Unemployment decline stalls in area counties

Jobless rates inched up or held steady in most Miami Valley counties last month, reversing a months-long trend of declines in unemployment throughout the nine-county region.

December unemployment rates in Warren, Clark and Montgomery counties remained unchanged from the previous month at 3.8 percent, 4.1 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, according to figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Meanwhile, Darke, Campaign and Miami counties all posted rates that inch up from .01 to .03 percentage points.

The rate in Darke County rose from 3.6 percent to 3.9 percent over the past two months, while Champaign County’s rate edged up to 3.9 percent from 3.8 percent and Miami County saw its rate climb from 4 percent to 4.2 percent.

Still, the average unemployment rate for the Miami Valley — 4.1 percent — is at its lowest level in decades, and most major cities in the area reported declines in unemployment last month, including Dayton, where unemployment fell to 5.3 percent from 5.4 percent in November.

The upward trend in unemployment coincided with a pickup in labor force participation in several local counties, bucking the state and national trends and indicating more Miami Valley residents are confident about their job prospects and actively seeking work, according to Robert Menafee, associate professor of economics at Sinclair Community College.

“Many people have been so discouraged about finding a job that they simply dropped out (of the labor force) altogether,”’ Menafee said. “If people are actually getting back into the job market that means they are less discouraged, and that’s a good sign.”

Menafee attributes the uptick in labor force participation in the local area to recent hiring initiatives launched by Chinese glass maker, Fuyao Glass America, which plans to hire more than 1,000 workers at its factory in the former GM assembly plant in Moraine, and Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, which began hiring last fall for its new distribution center in Union, where the company also expects to employ more than 1,000.

“Those companies have probably pulled a lot of people off the sidelines and back into the game of trying to find a job,” Menafee said.

As a result, unemployment rates may continue to trend upward over the next several months until new entrants into the labor market find jobs and bring down the share of labor force that is unemployed.

“In the short-term, that’s no cause for alarm,” Menafee said. “But if more people are getting back into the labor force and not able to find a job, then that’s problematic. But it takes a longer window of time to access that.”

Statewide, Ohio’s unemployment rate fell to 4.8 percent — the first time since September 2001 it has dipped below 5 percent, according to figures released last week by the state jobs department.

The December rate, which was down for the fourth month in a row, fell from 5 percent in November and 7.1 percent a year ago, according to the jobs report, which showed Ohio’s jobless rate is nearly a full percentage point below the national rate of 5.6 percent.

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