By Tom McParland
In what was seen as more evidence of the state’s slow economic recovery, the November unemployment rate across the Mahoning Valley jumped a full percentage point from a year ago.
Unemployment across the Valley hit 8.1 percent in November, compared with 7.1 percent in November 2012.
The nation’s overall unemployment rate is now down to 7 percent.
In Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the total number of unemployed increased by 2,500 to 21,300, while employment dropped by 2,000, according to data released Friday by the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.
All three counties posted higher seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates than last year, but Mahoning County fared the worst in year-over-year comparisons.
Last month, Mahoning County’s unemployment rate rose to 8.2 percent, up from 6.8 in November of last year. The number of unemployed people in the county increased by 1,700 to 9,200, while employment declined by 700.
In Columbiana County, the jobless rate jumped to 8 percent, compared with 7.1 percent last November. Employment was down by 700, and the number of unemployed rose by 500.
Meanwhile, Trumbull County’s jobs dipped by 700 to 92,500, and unemployment increased by 400. Its jobless rate also stood at 8 percent, compared with 7.6 percent a year ago.
Unlike statewide and national data, county jobless data are not adjusted to account for seasonal changes in employment, which usually occur around the end of the summer and the holidays. Additionally, the figures are approximations and subject to revision.
Economists were quick to point out that the poor unemployment numbers were not specific to the Valley.
Ohio’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped 0.6 of a percentage point from last November to 7.4 percent.
“2013 has been a tricky year, there’s no doubt about it,” said Jack Kleinhenz, an economist and professor at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Washington budget battles, confusion surrounding the Affordable Care Act, a muddy outlook on monetary policy, and trepidation in hiring have been persistent thorns in the side of the economy this year, he said.
Only one Ohio county — rural Van Wert in the northwestern part of the state — saw its unemployment rates improve compared with last year.
Though the Valley’s jobless spikes were steep, they were not completely unexpected after the state lost 12,000 jobs in November.
In all, last month’s numbers were representative of a year in which a slow economic recovery was hampered by uncertainty.
Cleveland-based economist George Zeller said cuts to government spending have been slowing down an economy that continues to crawl in the right direction.
Nonetheless, positive signs have emerged.
Kleinhenz pointed to gains in the housing sector and a “reasonably good” gross-domestic-product report expected for the fourth quarter, which would benefit the Valley’s manufacturing industry.
The economy will continue to improve into 2014, but “it won’t be a breakout speed,” he said.
Some Valley businesses leaders remained optimistic amid the November figures.
Bert Cene, director of the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association, said his organization has been working with Gov. John Kasich’s office to close a skills gap in manufacturing as the state prepares to meet the increasing demands of the shale industry.
Cene was surprised by the spike in the jobless rate but said his outlook remains positive.
“We see continued growth with our job orders and the shale [industry],” he said.
Vic Ing, president of the staffing company Alliance Solutions Group of Mahoning Valley, agreed that the demand for skilled labor positions is on the rise.
“My clients are telling me to be ready in a big way for the first quarter of 2014,” Ing said.
Still, for Zeller, the basic fact of Ohio’s economic recovery remains unchanged.
“We are recovering from the recession, but it is painfully slow, and these numbers show it is slower than we thought,” he said.