By Don Shilling
The local unemployment rate dropped just slightly in December.
More people are being retrained for new jobs as high unemployment lingers in the Mahoning Valley.
Figures released Tuesday show the Valley recorded a jobless rate of 13.3 percent last month, meaning every month in 2009 had double-digit unemployment.
The job scene has grown so frustrating that the number of people taking advantage of programs that pay for education or training has jumped dramatically, officials said.
“There are very few options at this point, so this is the opportune time to expand your horizons,” said Bill Turner, administrator of the Trumbull County One-Stop.
In Mahoning and Columbiana counties, 422 people received government funds for job training in the last half of 2009, compared with 301 in the previous 12 months.
In Trumbull County, 442 people received training assistance from July 1, 2009, to Jan. 13, compared with 414 in the previous 12 months.
Jessica Borza, chief operating officer of the Mahoning Columbiana Training Association, said the increases are partly the result of people’s natural inclinations.
When people lose their jobs, they normally try to find another job before considering training, she said. After a while, many people realize they need more skills, she said.
The retraining increase also has been fueled by an increase in funding, she said.
MCTA, which runs the One-Stop agencies in Mahoning and Columbiana counties, and the Trumbull County organization both have received federal and state money to supplement their normal job-training funds.
Both the MCTA and the Trumbull County organization received about $2 million each in federal stimulus funds, plus additional money from the state.
Programs pay for tuition and materials for up to two years of education or training. People can complete a bachelor’s degree, obtain an associate degree or receive vocational training.
Some of the positions that people are trained for include licensed practical nurses, welders and truck drivers.
Borza said people are eligible for assistance if they have lost their jobs and are unlikely to return to that position or a similar one at another company.
The unemployment numbers that were released Tuesday indicate that conditions remain tough for job seekers.
“We’re not coming out of it,” Turner said. “Things are stagnant.”
Youngstown continued to have the highest unemployment rate of any city in the state in December at 14.6 percent. Warren’s rate was 13.8.
The Valley’s unemployment rate of 13.3 percent in December was a slight drop from the 13.4 percent in November. In December 2008, the rate was 9.1 percent.
Here are the December unemployment rates for the individual counties: Mahoning, 12.8 percent, compared with 13.2 percent in November and 8.5 percent in December 2008; Trumbull, 13.8 percent, which was flat with November and up from 9.9 percent in December 2008; Columbiana, 13.5 percent, compared with 13 percent in November and 8.9 percent in December 2008.