After sitting frozen for three months, Ohio’s unemployment rate again crept down in September, falling two-tenths of a percentage point to 7 percent, matching the lowest rate in four full years.
Even so, data released on Friday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family services show Ohio actually lost nearly 13,000 jobs in September.
Friday’s figures are the last to be released before voters go to the polls in November, and the double-sided report is sure to play into the ongoing political narrative ahead the election.
“I think the better news about unemployment will continue to be used in both campaigns the way they’re being used nationally,” said Stephen Brooks, associate director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the the University of Akron.
“[President] Obama likes to point [out] we’re headed in the right direction, while [Republican challenger] Mitt Romney will use it to reinforce his discussion of how things aren’t getting that much better.”
Indeed, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a frequent Romney campaign surrogate, jumped on the figure that showed 12,800 fewer Ohioans were employed in September versus August, issuing a statement that claimed the “Obama economy” is not working.
“It’s time for a new approach to get our economy up and running again and restore the promise of a better tomorrow for all of those unemployed who currently feel forgotten amid a hurting economy,” the senator said.
“Washington needs new leadership that understands that throwing money at our problems is not the answer. In order to uplift American families and businesses, Washington must take swift action to avoid the devastating tax increases promised by President Obama, reduce burdensome regulations that hamper innovation and entrepreneurship, and encourage the development of energy and exports.”
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign focused on Ohio’s unemployment rate, which has dropped in 12 of the last 14 months and sits below the national rate of 7.8 percent, as proof that the President is helping to foster Ohio’s recovery.
“From the auto rescue, which saved hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout our state, to supporting small business and investing in education and innovation, it’s clear that the President is moving our state in the right direction. In order to keep moving our economy forward, we must stay on this path and not go back to the same trickle-down economic policies that Governor Romney supports, and that got us into the economic mess in the first place,” an Obama Ohio news release said Friday.
In spite of the campaigns piling on, Mr. Brooks said Friday’s figures and the reactions they spawned aren’t likely to have much influence on voters. “It’s hard to persuade voters with the same message you’ve been giving them for two to three months,” Mr. Brooks said.
The truth about state of the Ohio’s recovery falls somewhere in the middle, said Mekael Teshome, an economist with Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank.
Reacting to Friday’s data, he gave what has become a common refrain of economists for the past several months — the recovery is real, but it’s slow going and likely to take some hits as it moves forward.
“There is genuine improvement in Ohio’s economy,” Mr. Teshome said. “However, as that’s been happening we’ve also seen the labor force decline quite a bit over the course of the past couple of years. So the improvement in the unemployment rate, we can attribute it to both factors: job creation and a shrinkage in the number of people looking for work, at least according to statistics.”
Mr. Teshome also took a broader view of Ohio than just focusing on September. In spite of the job losses last month, he said there was payroll growth in the third quarter. Looking forward into next year, he expects a similar growth pattern. “Our view is when we look to 2013, we see persistent and moderate growth in Ohio and generally across most of the nation as well. The factors that got us into the recession are being corrected, so the recovery is durable and does have legs. However, things aren’t going to move that quickly in 2013 for a number of reasons.”
The state said employers have added 88,700 jobs since September, 2011, when the unemployment rate was 8.6 percent. Officials said the number of unemployed Ohioans last month was 406,000, having fallen 91,000 over the last 12 months.
Ohio was one of seven so-called swing states in which the unemployment rate fell last month. The others were Florida, Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and North Carolina.
The rates stayed the same in New Hampshire and Virginia.
Still, many key states are facing high unemployment. The rate was 11.8 percent in Nevada and 9.6 percent in North Carolina.
Overall, the U.S. Labor Department says rates fell in 41 states last month, rose in six, and were unchanged in three.