Oops! Brookings says we’re not that bad after all


By Karl Henkel

khenkel@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Unemployment rate

Youngstown: 9.9 percent

100-metro average: 9.1

Rank: 67

3-year rate change

Youngstown: 3.2 points

100-metro average: 4.1

Rank: 29

1-year rate change

Youngstown: -3.5 points

100-metro average: -1

Rank: 1

Source: Brookings Institution

Economist George Zeller said he didn’t think a recent Brookings Institution list was reasonable.

Walt Good of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber pointed to big employment gains and hinted at big things in the Valley’s future.

The local one-stops reported slow but steady increases in job requests.

It turns out nobody knows the Valley quite like those in the Valley.

Earlier this week, the Brookings Institution released its MetroMonitor economic report that lumped the Mahoning Valley in with the nation’s 20 weakest-performing metro areas.

The report ranked the 100 largest metro areas by a variety of economic indicators.

But Friday, Brookings released a correction that vaulted the Valley out of the study’s basement.

The problem: Though the Valley scored big points in the study, Brookings didn’t tabulate them correctly.

“We counted the change of the unemployment rate wrong,” said co-author Howard Wial. “We didn’t give those who had a decline in the unemployment rate the proper credit.”

It’s understandable that the Valley made this list, because the region routinely appears on “worst” lists published by Brookings, Forbes magazine and others.

Already this year, the region has been determined to have the cheapest housing and to be one of the most sleep-deprived, second-worst place to find a summer job and second-worst in terms of residents’ well-being.

But there’s no debating that job creation has been one of the Valley’s bright spots so far this year; no large metro area saw employment gains such as the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman region.

In the first quarter, unemployment dropped nearly 1.5 percent, and in Brookings’ report, the Valley’s employment rate jumped 2.1 percent, more than twice the national average.

“When you look at the economy activity we’ve seen, it didn’t make sense to me that we were in the bottom 20,” said Good, vice president of Economic Development at the chamber. “The lists we’ve been on in the last year or two have been much more positive.”

The revised list puts Youngstown in the top 20 when it came to economic recovery; Youngstown was in the middle 60 when it came to overall performance.

Zeller, the Cleveland-based economist who tracks the economic status of Ohio’s metro areas on a weekly basis, said the new report jibes with his data.

He said Youngstown had a streak earlier this year of 16 consecutive weeks of job growth.

“That’s what I said in the first place,” Zeller said. “I don’t know how you can put the fastest-growing city in Ohio in the bottom 20.”

Brookings originally had Youngstown and three other Ohio regions — Toledo, Dayton and Cleveland — all in the bottom 20 on its weakest-performing metro-areas list. All were removed because of the botched data.

Wial said after looking back on it, Youngstown was one of the most-improving performers in the first quarter of 2011, albeit because the region started so far behind the rest of the nation.

“What has changed [in Youngstown] is the recent employment growth and the drop in the unemployment rate,” Wial said. “Basically, this means that Youngstown was hit very, very hard during the recession but is recovering very quickly.”

Zeller, though he questioned the original bottom 20 list, didn’t bash Brookings.

“You’ve got to consider the size of these reports,” he said. “The previous one they did, they tried to cover the whole world and no one had ever done that before. You’ve got to admire them for correcting the error.”

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