Economic growth has metro Youngstown rated 14th in US
SEE ALSO: Valley’s decline in jobless rate has down side
By Jamison Cocklin
Economic data show the Youngs-town metropolitan area continues to post a strong rate of economic growth, especially compared with some other U.S. cities.
In a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman area ranked 14th out of 100 metropolitan areas in the United States for fastest growth since the recession ended in the third quarter of 2009.
Known as the MetroMonitor, the index tracks the quarterly economic performance of the nation’s 100 largest cities and metro areas — home to two-thirds of U.S. population and three-fourths of its economy — across four key economic platforms: employment, unemployment, product output and housing prices.
The drop in the area’s unemployment rate was the second best in the country, going from 12.3 percent in the third quarter of 2009 to just under 8 percent in the second quarter of 2012.
“On the surface of the statistics Youngstown has demonstrated a relatively strong recovery,” said Alex Freiedhoff, a research analyst and leader of the MetroMonitor study at the Brookings Institution. “There are still serious concerns for the area about whether this engine can propel the area toward prosperity from this point forward.”
Freiedhoff cautioned that those who already have left the labor force and given up looking for work tend to reduce a given area’s unemployment rate.
“It’s important to remember, when it comes to this study, that it’s not how you’re doing right now, but it’s where you’ve come from,” Freiedhoff added. “The region experienced a huge spike in its unemployment rate during the recession — it had a long way to fall — but it’s covered that distance pretty quickly in one sense. In another sense, the employment rate still stands around 8 percent.”
Those leaving the area labor force earned the Youngstown metro area a ranking of 54th in employment, while housing prices were tied for 14th with 87 other areas. Economic output, such as products manufactured in the area, also stood at the middle of the pack, ranking 40th.
Still, the index shows Youngstown is faring better than other metro areas. Altogether employment growth softened across the country during the second quarter and the rate of output growth slowed as well. Unemployment rates dropped in about half the metro areas but still remained above 6 percent in all but 12 metro areas.
“In some sense these sorts of numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt,” said Dr. Tod Porter, chairman of the economics department at Youngstown State University. “But one long-term advantage for our area is a more diversified work force compared to where we were looking back. There’s a higher percentage of jobs in education, health care and the service sector than there used to be when the area relied heavily on just steel and auto.”
More recently, according to statistics compiled by the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, the metro-area unemployment rate decreased from 8.7 percent in July to 7.9 percent in August. Nationwide, unemployment stands at 8.1 percent, and one year ago the Youngstown metro area jobless rate was at 9.3 percent.
“The economic trend of the Valley continues to be positive despite the misfortune of the closing of RG Steel over the summer,” said Tom Humphries, president and chief executive at the chamber.
Manufacturing jobs in the metro area jumped 3 percent from July to August, slightly rebounding from the layoffs at RG Steel in June, and were 5.4 percent higher than in August 2011.
“It’s difficult to qualify these numbers,” said Tony Paglia, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs. “There’s no one reason or another, like a plant opening, for them going up, but they’re reflecting good momentum in growth at the very least.”