Jobless rates across northwest Ohio shot up in January, with Ottawa County capturing the dubious title of having the highest unemployment rate in the state, according to figures released yesterday.
Ottawa County's rate shot up nearly 3 percentage points from December to reach 19.8 percent, its highest rate since it reached 20.1 percent in January, 1983, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The department estimates that 4,400 people are jobless in the rural county east of Toledo, out of a potential work force of 22,100.
Ottawa County was far from alone. All but one of Ohio's 88 counties had rate increases in January. Only Hardin County's rate stayed unchanged.
Brian Harter, spokesman for the state jobs agency, said many of the county rate increases stemmed from use of a new method to determine the jobless estimates. The new approach added to the typical December-to-January increases caused by the end of Christmas seasonal jobs and automotive factory holiday shutdowns.
The new methodology resulted in upward adjustments to the county rates for the last nine months of last year.
The January jobless rate in Lucas County jumped to 13.2 percent from 12.3 percent in December. The state estimated the number of unemployed actively seeking work rose by 1,700 to 28,100 while the number of adults able to work, called the labor force, fell by 2,700 in January.
George Zeller, an economic research analyst who specializes in employment statistics in Ohio, said that Ottawa County has lost 17 percent of its jobs since 2000, including a large chunk last year.
Similar losses occurred in Lucas, Fulton, and Wood counties, and many are manufacturing jobs, he said.
"If you look at just the blue-collar job loss, which is enormously terrible, it is as bad as the Great Depression was," he said. "And that's a horrible thing to say.
"When you're talking about a county like Ottawa having a whole fifth of the people looking for work, that's just staggering. There is no sign at all yet that we have an improvement."
Only Erie and Huron counties in northwest Ohio have had similar rates in January to a year earlier, but most others have increased by at least 1 percentage point.
The jobless rate increases occurred at the county level even though the statewide rate was unchanged in January at 10.8 percent. The Ohio figure was released Friday. The January figures were delayed from the normal release time because of statistical adjusting that occurs early every year.
The national rate in January was 9.7 percent. The February figures for Ohio and for the counties will be released later this month.
George Mokzran, chief economist at Huntington Bancshares in Columbus, said that despite the new state numbers, the recovery in the national economy will continue.
"Credit markets across the board are tremendously improved now versus what they were last year. Liquidity is flowing much better, credit is being extended more, and that's going to make a huge difference as we move forward," he said.
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