Though the Mahoning Valley’s unemployment rate remained largely unchanged in August, other labor market data suggest the region fared better than others as summer drew to a close.
Figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services show the Valley’s seasonally unadjusted jobless rate dropped slightly to 7.7 percent last month from 7.8 percent a year earlier.
But as the Valley’s unemployment rate decreased, Ohio’s rate went up in August to 7.3 percent from 7.2 percent in July.
Unlike the statewide data, though, county-level numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and they do not take into account the seasonal jobs that begin and end during the summer or the holidays for example.
Ohio lost 8,200 jobs, mostly in manufacturing, health care and social services last month. Economists expected some drop in employment as seasonal work came to an end in August.
The state’s labor force declined by 13,000 people last month, as well.
Those seasonal factors aren’t reflected in the county data, but other indicators, such as the Valley’s civilian labor force, continue to show stability.
There were 263,000 people in the local workforce last month — unchanged from a year before. Also in August, the Valley added 500 jobs, while the number of unemployed decreased by 300.
“It was a dim figure for Ohio, extremely bad,” said Cleveland-based economist George Zeller. “Even though things are flat in the Valley, there are some positive signs. The labor force is stable, and there’s been a low level of unemployment claims, those are forward-looking indicators and it might not be enthusiastic, but things are better in the Valley than they are elsewhere in the state.”
Ohio’s job-growth rate in August was 0.72 percent, compared with 1.65 percent nationwide last month when the country added 169,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another positive factor in the Valley is the sustained drop in new claims for unemployment benefits, which has occurred for 83 of the last 113 weeks, putting Youngstown-Warren ahead of every other metro region in the state, Zeller said.
Tom Humphries, president and chief executive officer of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said county data provided by ODJFS on a monthly basis fluctuates so much that his organization rarely relies on it to gauge the local economy. He said the chamber conducts about 700 retention visits to area employers each year to check on workforce developments.
Those visits have found more employers are searching for skilled workers, retailers intend to hire more, and warehouses and seasonal employers are again ramping up for the holiday season.
“When you look at those sorts of things, it says the economy here continues to stabilize and shows signs of improvement,” Humphries said. “It’s hard to look at the numbers until you go out and knock on doors.”
In Mahoning County, the unemployment rate went from 7.4 percent last year to 7.7 percent in August. In Columbiana County, it increased from 7.6 percent to 7.7 percent, and in Trumbull County, it dropped from 8.3 percent to 7.6 percent.
“I think the economy is improving. We’re not doing leaps and bounds, but it’s steady,” said Bim Turner, workforce administrator at the Trumbull County One-Stop. “If you listen to the pundits, we’re recovering at a brisker pace than others in the state.”