Unemployment rates continued trending higher for most northwest Ohio counties in December, but rates remain well below where they were at the same point a year earlier. State officials say that highlights the state’s recovery — and the halting nature of it.
“If you take a step back from that month-over-month data ... the longer trend for Ohio is positive as a whole and for the individual regions,” said Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The state agency said Tuesday that Lucas County’s unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent in December from 7.4 percent in November. It’s the second straight month the county’s jobless figure has risen after several months of slow decline.
The unemployment rate in Toledo moved in lockstep with the county rate, going up 0.2 percentage points from 8.0 in November to 8.2 in December.
However, state officials and economists caution against taking too much away from month-to-month changes in county unemployment. For one, the numbers aren’t seasonally adjusted, meaning they’re susceptible to normal, cyclical changes in the economy — and with it, more volatility.
The rates are also derived by applying a formula to a relatively small sample size, meaning they’re more a rough guide than a perfect statistic, Cleveland State University economist Ned Hill said.
“It’s nothing to get too excited about,” Mr. Hill said. “What you really want to pay attention to is the long-term trend.”
Lucas County officials took a similar stance. Mike Veh, work-force development manager at The Source of Northwest Ohio, Lucas County’s one-stop shop for unemployment services, said the comparison that matters is year-to-year.
“If you look at it compared to a year ago, we’re down almost a full percentage point,” he said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a significant move. You’re not talking anywhere near double digits anymore.”
Lucas County’s unemployment rate was 11.9 percent in December, 2009, according to state data. It fell to 9.9 percent in December, 2010, and 8.4 percent in December, 2011.
Mr. Veh said there are reasons why the rate could increase from November to December, including manufacturing slowdowns in the automotive sector and the first cuts from seasonal work forces.
“When you look at seasonal jobs, those are usually for the big holiday rush. By the time you get to the middle of the month, you’re through that rush, and that’s when you start trimming away some of those extra people. You still have extra people on board, but it makes some difference,” he said.
The rate likely will fall when Jeep workers go back on the job after the extended plant shutdown, and go down again when the second shift comes on later this year.
Across the state, unemployment rates were up in December in 67 of 88 counties.
The biggest jump locally was in Ottawa County, where the unemployment rate for December was 10.9 percent, up from 9.5 percent in December. That tied for third-highest in the state. Pike County was highest at 12.3 percent.
Ottawa County’s economy is tied heavily to tourism, which shrinks considerably during winter. Even though its December rate is high compared to the rest of the state, the county was in considerably better shape than it was the year prior. The state reported Ottawa County’s unemployment rate in December, 2011 was 12.8 percent.
The unemployment rate also has increased in Fulton County in the past two months, from 6.2 percent in October to 7.1 percent in November and again to 7.6 percent in December.
The state said the number of Fulton County residents looking for jobs in the county grew by 100 over that period, while the number of jobs fell by 200.
Lisa Arend, director of the Fulton County Economic Development Office, said there had not been major layoffs recently, though the last remaining employees at Graham Packaging in Delta lost their jobs near the end of the year.
In spite of the recent spike, she said things look more positive than they did a year ago. An upcoming job fair Friday featuring seven employers is testament to that, she said.
“We’ve got people hiring. We’re just looking for employees to match up for jobs,” she said. “We’ve got some activity out there in the market that will hopefully come to fruition.”
Mr. Johnson, with Job and Family Services in Columbus, said the state has seen an increase in initial applications for unemployment benefits from construction workers and employees at temporary help agencies in Fulton County.
The rate was also up in Wood County, rising to 6.1 percent from 5.8 in November. Some of that was likely because of the closing of the Hostess bakery in Northwood. Wood County’s rate was 7.1 percent in December, 2011.
The lowest rate in the state was 3.9 percent in Mercer County.
The state’s seasonally adjusted rate was 6.7 percent.
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