By Burton Speakman
The unemployment rate for the Mahoning Valley continues to plummet, but the number of jobs continues on a slow rise.
There were 19,400 people counted as unemployed in May 2012 compared with 25,000 in May 2011, dropping the unemployment rate for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties combined to 7.4 percent, a drop from 9.3 percent in May 2011, according to labor-market statistics from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The increase in the number of employed was not nearly as dramatic, however, growing by 900 jobs from 242,400 to 243,300.
The biggest reason for the decreased unemployment rate is the drop in the civilian labor force, which went from 267,000 in May 2011 to 263,000 this year, JFS and labor-market statistics show.
At the current rate of recovery, it would be 2017 before the area returned to an employment ratio equal to the one before the economic crash in 2007, said Tod Porter, economics professor at Youngstown State University.
The employment ratio is determined by calculating the number of people employed and collecting data on the working-age population.
“The good news is the employment-growth rate is rising faster than the population-growth rate,” Porter said.
Sixty-three percent of working-age people were employed in 2007. The current rate is 59.6 percent, Porter said. An employment ratio of 63 percent is a solid figure for this area, he said.
There are a lot of things that could make the pace of economic recovery change quickly, he added.
“If the oil-and-gas business takes off and manufacturing keeps hiring, the recovery could move much faster, but if Europe continues to falter, then manufacturing could be affected, and it could take much longer,” Porter said.
Economic indicators for the Mahoning Valley have been good, said George Zeller, Cleveland-based economic-research analyst.
Manufacturing, led by General Motors in Lords-town and V&M Star in Youngstown and Girard, has had solid employment gains. There also has been some increase in the number of people employed based on growth in the oil- and-gas industry.
This week was the first in several weeks when Youngstown has not led the state in the reduction of workers filing for unemployment, Zeller said. The May 2012 unemployment estimates are very favorable for the area, he said, adding that employment recovery has been going on for some time.
“Yes, we still have some weaknesses in the economy. Jobs are still growing too slowly,” Zeller said.
Angela Terez, spokes-woman for JFS, confirmed that the total work force for Trumbull and Mahoning counties had decreased. Columbiana County had an increase in the total work force. She said JFS did not have a reason for the work-force shrinkage.
“There are a number of reasons why people might have left the work force,” she said. “They could have become discouraged, they might have went back to school, or there could be other reasons.”
Zeller said he did not believe the figure for Mahoning Valley in terms of a shrinking work force.
“There haven’t been enough people retiring to explain that,” he said. “This isn’t the fault of the ODJFS. They don’t receive the money to do any sort of survey in Ohio.”