By Burton Speakman
For the first time since July, the Mahoning Valley’s unemployment rate inched higher in November as 1,600 fewer people were employed.
The unemployment rate for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties combined was 7.3 percent in November, up from 7.1 percent in October, according to labor-market statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The local work force shrinking by 1,000 workers did not make up for the loss of jobs and 300 more people filing for unemployment last month.
November’s rate still shows progress for the Valley compared with a year ago, however.
In November 2011, the unemployment rate was 8.3 percent. The area also had a smaller work force, 4,800 fewer people employed and 2,600 more people unemployed.
George Zeller, a Cleveland-based economist, indicated the area should be prepared for higher unemployment in December based on seasonal factors relating to annual layoffs in manufacturing plants, especially the auto industry.
“Youngstown-Warren suddenly vaulted from the lowest elevated level of new unemployment claims in Ohio to its position this week with the unwanted and unfortunate distinction as the Ohio urban region with the highest elevated level of new unemployment claims,” he said using the unemployment-claim figures released Thursday for the previous week.
“This stunning development is a seasonal factor,” he said.
That factor happens yearly as manufacturers, including General Motors, lay off workers around Christmas for seasonal shutdowns, he added. “This year shouldn’t be as bad as last year because GM doesn’t have plans to shut down for as long,” Zeller said.
Zeller’s assessment pans out, based on figures from December 2011, when the unemployment rate increased from the previous month. In addition, for the past two years, January and February have had the highest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley.
Trumbull County was the lone local county that had a decrease in its unemployment rate last month, dropping from 7.8 percent to 7.7 percent.
Not any one factor contributed to the slight decrease, said Benjamin Turner, director of the Trumbull County One-Stop office.
Turner acknowledged that unemployment is likely to go up in December as it typically does.
“Everything slows down in December,” he said.
Several seasonal factors contribute to the employment levels, Turner said.
“I’m sure the people with seasonal employment are glad to get it,” he said.
Unemployment typically rises this time of year, said Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning-Columbiana Training Association.
It results from a number of facilities that shut down around Thanksgiving, agricultural season workers laid off, and retail employees hired for seasonal stocking who don’t make it through the season, he said.
“Factories today are fabrication, and a number of them have scheduled vacation shutdowns [around the holidays],” Cene said. “It’s not like the steel industry where work had to keep going constantly.”
It’s a positive that jobless rates are lower than the past few years, heading into the typical seasonal increase, he said.
“Overall, 2012 has turned out to be a pretty good year for the economy in the Valley, and we have reason to believe it will continue in 2013,” Tom Humphries, president & CEO of Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said in a statement.
Trumbull and Mahoning counties, as well as the cities of Youngstown and Warren have registered impressive jobless rate declines, during the last year with Youngstown’s unemployment rate leading the way, he said. Youngstown’s jobless rate fell from 11.2 percent in January 2012 to 8.6 percent in November, according to ODJFS.