By Karl Henkel
The Mahoning Valley’s unemployment rate tumbled nearly 2 percent in February compared with the same month last year, according to newly released data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
In the tri-county area, the unemployment rate in February was 9.3 percent, down from 11.1 percent in February 2011.
That figure, like figures for the past few months, reveals a less-promising trend: More people are leaving the work force because they are discouraged and cannot find work.
The Valley’s civilian labor force — defined as those 16 and older who are working or looking for work, excluding the military, students, volunteer workers and those in institutions, retired or unable to work — dropped from 265,000 last February to 261,000 last month.
“We won’t be able to say we have a strong recovery until we see employment numbers go up,” said Tod Porter, economics department chairman at Youngstown State University. “We’re still seeing the unemployment go down because people are leaving the work force rather than because of strong job growth.”
Porter said nationwide, the economy has to add jobs — as many as 90,000 per month — just to tread water.
It needs as many as 320,000 per month to show significant economic growth.
So though the Valley, which added 1,200 jobs during the past year, is growing, the rate at which it is growing still is tepid.
The number of employed Valley residents rose from 235,700 to 236,900.
The number of unemployed dropped by 5,000, from 29,400 to 24,400.
Still, some are encouraged by the fact the Valley’s unemployment rate has fallen — when compared with the same month from the previous year — for 23 consecutive months.
“Slowly but surely, our fortunes are turning for the better,” said Michael Metzinger, 22, of Austintown. “It won’t happen overnight, but in three to five years, I believe things will be much different locally thanks to the shale boom and continued growth of the Youngstown Business Incubator.”
In Mahoning County, the unemployment rate decreased from 11 percent to 9.4 percent.
In Trumbull County, the unemployment rate dropped from 11 percent to 8.9 percent.
In Columbiana County, the unemployment rate fell from 11.6 percent to 9.9 percent.
The unemployment rate still is higher than the Ohio rate of 7.6 percent and the national rate of 8.3 percent.