By Kalea Hall
Unemployment data for the Mahoning Valley released Tuesday suggests an almost 2 percent decrease in the unemployment rate from April 2013, but some economists stress the numbers do not tell the whole story.
Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties were reported to have a combined unemployment rate that dropped from 7.8 percent in April 2013 to 6 percent in April 2014, according to data released by the Ohio Depart- ment of Jobs and Family Services.
The data also showed an increase in employment from 239,300 in April 2013 to 239,800 in April 2014 and a decrease in unemployment from 20,400 in April 2013 to 15,300 in April 2014.
In Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the unemployment rate for April 2014 fell to 6 percent from last year’s 7.9 rate.
The unemployment rate in Columbiana County for April 2014 also fell to 6 percent from a 7.7 percent rate last year.
“I think, overall, it is a positive development,” said Mekael Teshome, economist for PNC Bank. “The county stories match the stories for the state and the nation. Six percent is not low, but [it is] moving in the right direction.”
The last April when the average unemployment rate was in the 6 percent range for Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties was in 2008 when it was at 6.1 percent. The last April the unemployment rate was below 6 percent was in 2001 when it was at 5.4 percent. The last time the unemployment rate was below 6 percent in the Valley was in November 2007 when it was at 5.8 percent.
Despite the decrease, Teshome believes last month’s numbers “don’t tell the whole story.”
“We have had a lot of people drop out of the workforce,” he said. “That 6 percent is not exactly accurate. The direction is undoubtedly positive. I put more emphasis on the trajectory.”
For all three counties, the civilian workforce, which is the sum of employment and unemployment, fell from 260,000 in April 2013 to 255,000 in April 2014, which is not a positive for the local economy.
“It signifies that the regional economic potential is weakening,” he said. “We are looking for a little more stability. I think we are quite some time away from growth in the labor force [in Northeast Ohio]. “We have a slower population growth, so, overall, the job growth is going to be slower as well.”
George Zeller, a Cleveland-based economic research analyst, is concerned about the Valley and the state continuing to remain behind the national average for job growth rate, which was 1.75 percent in April.
Ohio’s unemployment rate released last Friday showed it dropped to 5.7 percent and the state gained 12,600 jobs. The job growth was 0.83 percent in Ohio.
“There are a large number of workers that cannot find a job because we are growing too slowly,” Zeller said.
Zeller lists the recession as the culprit for the loss of jobs in the Valley, which left “enormous damage” and many unemployed. Zeller was adamant that the numbers the state released are not an accurate depiction of the story.
“We are recovering, but the rate is slow,” he said. “What we need to do is speed up the recovery and get them back to work.”