Toledo had the strongest job growth of any major metro area in the nation at the end of 2009, but suffered more overall than all but two other regions during the recession, according to a new Brookings Institution study.
The think tank's quarterly report on the nation's 100 largest metro areas found employment in Toledo rose by 0.5 percent during the fourth quarter, largely on gains in the manufacturing sector.
The local increase compares to a loss of 0.4 percent for all 100 metro areas above 500,000, and a loss of 0.3 percent in employment for the nation as a whole, the study found. While Toledo had the top spot for the most recent quarter, once-hopping Las Vegas was last, dropping 1.8 percent of its jobs since Oct. 1, the study found.
Unemployment, recognized as a lagging indicator of economic health, continues to plague metro Toledo according to the study. The 12.5 percent average unemployment rate for the last quarter of 2009 ranked 89th nationally, while the region's loss of 9.8 percent of its jobs in the last four years ranked Toledo 90th nationally and was double the loss experienced by the rest of the nation.
"If you look at Toledo's performance from the peak [during the first quarter of 2006] to the end of the fourth quarter, it doesn't look so good," explained Jennifer Vey, a Brookings fellow and co-director of its Great Lakes Economic Initiative. "What is probably the most likely explanation is that perhaps [Toledo] hit its bottom and has started to come back up."
While recent employment trends have showed some small signs of turnaround, Toledo has a much longer road to travel toward recovery of its local economy.
The Brookings study ranked Toledo 98th out of 100 when measuring the effects of what it called the Great Recession. According to the study, Toledo's gross metropolitan product shrank 7.7 percent since it peaked in the first quarter of 2006, compared to an average contraction of less than 1 percent among the 100 largest metro areas.
The study ranked the metro areas overall in groups of 20. Columbus fared the best of any major city in Ohio in the second group of 20; Cincinnati and Cleveland were in the third group of 20; Toledo, Akron, and Dayton were in the group between 61 and 80, and Youngstown was in the bottom group overall.
University of Toledo economist Oleg Smirnov said the recession has hurt Toledo and exacerbated the city's budget woes not only because of job losses but also because of wage degradation. Fourth-quarter employment increases were "nice, but one quarter is like one swallow, and one swallow doesn't make it spring," he said.
Mr. Smirnov said the city's employment levels "have not declined as much as Toledo's income tax receipts, which means that people are losing high-paying jobs, and some of those people who lost those jobs are taking lower-paying jobs."
Although housing values continue to plummet nationally, Toledo fared better than average among the largest 100 metro areas studied by Brookings. Home values locally fell 4.9 percent in 2009 compared to 6.5 percent nationally.
Ms. Vey said recovery from the recession is occurring in most metro areas around the country, albeit at different speeds.
"There are some things to be hopeful about for Toledo and other auto-impacted communities," she said, citing the area's efforts to attract green energy jobs. "As we look toward the future and start to understand where the economy is moving, there could be some trends that favor cities like Toledo."
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