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Published: Friday, 1/16/2009

Lucas County leads state in first-time jobless filings

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Lucas County led the state last week with the number of people filing for the first time for unemployment benefits, and Ohio's initial jobless claims last week were twice what they were for the same week last year.

The numbers released yesterday jumped significantly nationwide and were higher than experts expected. They illustrate the sour position of the economy, the layoffs of retail workers after the Christmas holiday season, and the massive job losses in the automotive industry.

Keith Ewald, labor market analyst for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said the sharp rise in jobless claims this month portends much worse news to come.

"I think we'll find as all the data comes in for November and December that we'll see the economy has taken an even deeper downturn than first thought," he said. "But you're seeing it in the [jobless] claims right now."

The numbers are stunning.

For last week, the number of new filings by people seeking unemployment compensation rose 159 percent, to 3,138, in Lucas County from the week before, according the state job agency. The level was nearly three times what it was for the same week two years ago.

The number last week exceeded all 87 other counties in Ohio. Next-highest was Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, at 2,940.

Similar increases occurred in other northwest Ohio counties, with the filings up 322 percent last week from the week before for Erie County, up 114 percent in Ottawa County, 48 percent in Van Wert County, 46 percent in Wood County, and 32 percent in Allen County.

Statewide, the initial claims for unemployment compensation rose 44 percent last week to 40,958 from the prior week. More than 20,000 filed for compensation last week over the same week last year, the state figures show.

Nationwide, new claims climbed to a seasonally adjusted 524,000, up from a revised 470,000 the week before, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Analysts had expected 500,000 new claims.

"There is the usual seasonal pattern with layoff activity increasing in the early part of the year that usually reflects the unwinding of retail," said Richard DeKaser, chief economist at National City Corp. "That's not the whole story this time around.

"There is a large increase this time now and what's likely operative here is the auto industry-related cutbacks."

The sharp rise in claims in the last few weeks has made it difficult for workers to reach a state-run automated telephone system set up to accept unemployment claims. Also, computers and other job hunting resources at state-run employment centers, like The Source Inc. in Lucas County, are getting heavy use of late.

"The season is terrible, what with all the economic downsizing," said Roland Rayman of Toledo, a computer repair specialist who was laid off by two different companies in 2008 and currently is hunting for a job.

"I'm working part-time here and there. It helps pay the bills but there are no benefits," he said.

Ohio pays unemployment benefits of up to $372 a week for a single person and up to $503 a week for a family of four.

Mr. Ewald, the state labor market analyst, said, "With any prolonged downturn, if you will, you first see manufacturing and then retail areas that shrink."

Manufacturing slumps as consumers pull back on spending and orders for goods decrease; retail drops as consumer confidence dwindles and people start curtailing their discretionary spending, he explained.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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