While the nation continues to wallow in a weak economic recovery, new employment figures suggest that Toledo and the rest of Ohio are even more at risk of not sustaining the post-recession momentum. In the coming months, elected leaders must consider whether state and federal austerity measures are slowing an already-anemic recovery.
Ohio’s jobless rate is still below the national rate of 7.7 percent, a post-recession low. Most experts continue to believe that Ohio and the nation are recovering. But the recovery appears to be slowing.
The Ohio rate rose slightly in January, from 6.7 percent to 7.0 percent. That was the first increase since June, 2011, and the largest jump since May, 2009.
In metropolitan Toledo, the news is even less encouraging: Local unemployment rates rose 2 percentage points in January, with Toledo hitting 10.3 percent and Lucas County, 9.6 percent. Jobless rates rose in all of Ohio’s 88 counties.
An increase in unemployment in January was not unexpected, as temporary jobs that were added during the holiday season ended. Still, the unusually large spike ought to concern politicians and policymakers. A year earlier, Lucas County reported a jump of only 1 percentage point, when unemployment rose from 8.4 percent in December, 2011 to 9.4 percent in January, 2012.
Those numbers translate into real people. About 188,400 people were employed in Lucas County in January, down 900 from a year earlier. And 20,100 people were unemployed, up from 19,600 in 2012.
The federal government’s annual revision of unemployment numbers showed that Ohio did worse than was initially reported during the second half of last year. Only 5,600 jobs were added since July, compared to nearly 50,000 during the same period in 2011.
“It suggests our recovery might be a little weaker than we had thought,” Hannah Halbert, a policy analyst for the liberal advocacy group Policy Matters Ohio, told The Blade editorial page. “At both the federal and state levels, we’re not making the investments we need in work-force development, K-12 education, police and fire services, and local government.”
Ohio’s budget for 2012 and 2013 cut state aid to local government by roughly a billion dollars. Those cuts have meant reduced services and fewer jobs.
A month or two doesn’t make a trend. But the economic momentum provided by federal stimulus spending has waned, and the nation has yet to feel the effect of new spending cuts caused by the federal budget sequester.
In their efforts to create jobs, Gov. John Kasich and too many lawmakers have focused almost exclusively on cutting public spending and taxes — a formula driven more by ideology than results. Mr. Kasich and the General Assembly should watch state and local employment figures carefully over the next few months, and adjust their policies accordingly. If not, they will risk slowing Ohio’s recovery even further.