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Economy

Lucas County jobless rate falls below 8%

7.8% reading for May is best since same number in 2008

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The unemployment rate for Lucas County dipped to 7.8 percent in May, marking the first time the county's jobless rate has been below 8 percent in four years, according to new figures released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

The county rate fell from 8.2 percent in April, and 9.4 percent a year earlier. The last time the county unemployment rate was below 8 percent was in June, 2008, when it was at 7.8 percent.

Unemployment in Toledo fell to 8.5 percent in May from 8.9 percent in April. A year earlier the city's jobless rate was 10.2 percent.

Mike Veh, work force development manager at The Source of Northwest Ohio, Lucas County's one-stop shop for unemployment services, said the drop in the unemployment rate is being fueled by new openings and a small but steady demand for workers.

"We're still seeing a rise in the number of jobs coming in. We're dealing with new employers just about every day, and I think we're starting to see new companies come to us and that hasn't happened before," Mr. Veh said.

Most of the requests for workers are from smaller companies seeking to fill one to five positions, Mr. Veh said. "There are a couple in the 30s to 40s but not a lot of those. Mostly it's between one and five, and you get enough of those in there and things add up."

Mr. Veh said The Source has been getting more requests from temporary staffing agencies, such as Manpower Inc., Renhill Staffing Services, and Kelly Services, for skilled applicants. "We're seeing a lot more activity from the staffing companies. … A lot of companies will use those workers to bridge that need between temporary work and full time," Mr. Veh said.

Patty Bernal, operations manager for Manpower's office in Maumee, said demand for temporary workers is increasing and more employers are looking for workers to fill longer-term positions. "Companies that hadn't been calling us as steadily before are starting to call us regularly now," she said.

Last week Manpower released its third-quarter job outlook for metro Toledo, which showed 19 percent of employers expected to increase staffing in the quarter. That was up from 15 percent in the second quarter but down from 27 percent for the third quarter of 2011.

Jack Hollister, president of the Employers' Association, based in Maumee, said jobs are being added but there isn't a huge rush to increase work forces.

"From what we hear from employers in the second quarter and what we heard in [the first quarter] they're just cautiously adding people. It's getting a little better, but not for everybody," he said. "At the same time there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty -- uncertainty about health care, with the election this fall, with taxes. So you've sort of got these various things balancing against each other."

Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said that even though the county could use far more job openings, it is good to see the unemployment rate finally dip below 8 percent again.

"It's been a long time and I think it is a trend. If you tie it with what we see in the foreclosures slowing down and increases in sales taxes in the county, it shows consumers are starting to spend a little bit again," Mr. Gerken said. "I think when you put all those economic indicators together we're coming out of the trench."

Although most businesses, especially manufacturers, are hiring only a few workers at a time, the good news is that they are adding full-time workers, not temporary workers, Mr. Gerken said.

"But there's no reason our community should say we're at 7.8 percent and we're done. It should be much lower than 7.8," Mr. Gerken said. "Yes, it's a better picture. … But we hope we're not done," he said.

"We've got to keep working at it. We've got a long way to go," Mr. Gerken said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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