Expanding workforce causes slight uptick in unemployment


Ohio Unemployment Rates

Lyndsey Schey

More people are competing for jobs in Portage County as Kent State students return to campus.

Portage County’s unemployment rate rose slightly from 5.2 percent in June to 5.3 percent in July, but no jobs were lost.

“The number of people working was actually unchanged,” said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. “The unemployment rate did not rise because there were fewer people working. It rose because there were more people looking for work.”

Against the grain in a good way

More people joined the labor market from June to July, while 85,700 residents remained employed, Johnson said. He said this is contrary to national trends of a shrinking labor force.

“There are a lot of theories out there about why that’s happening,” Johnson said. “We’re not economists, and so we don’t have any theories of our own, but I can tell you that some of theories out there are that there are discouraged workers, people who would be looking for work but they don’t feel like they’re likely to find anything and so they’re not actively seeking work and therefore, not counted as part of the labor force.”

Large numbers of retiring baby boomers and young people seeking secondary education may also be contributing to this trend, Johnson said.

The statewide unemployment rate also increased slightly, going up 0.2 percent to 5.7 percent in July. However, he said that was mostly due to lost jobs as opposed to an expanding labor market.

Low unemployment brings new challenges

Who are the sound clips of quotes from?

Graph Cutline: Portage County’s unemployment rate compares favorably with the rest of Ohio.

Click Sound Bite Unemployment 2 to hear Benjamin Johnson discuss the labor market

Click Sound Bite Unemployment 3 to hear Brad Ehrhart talk about the local economy.

The economy is recovering and Portage County’s location is ideal, said Brad Ehrhart, president of the Portage Development Board.

“The recession’s over,” Ehrhart said. “It‘s actually been over for quite some time. Portage County is in a great location in Northeast Ohio. We border four major metropolitan areas: Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Youngstown, and we’re the beneficiaries. When they’re doing good, we’re doing great.”

While the low unemployment rates have been positive, it has led to some challenges for local businesses, Ehrhart said. Some companies have trouble finding workers with either hard skills like proficiency in programming or welding, or soft skills, like showing up to work on time and communicating well.

Brian Boykin, workforce administrator at OhioMeansJobs Portage County, said that one of his group’s jobs is to train people looking for work in soft skills and provide companies with funding to give new employees hard skills.

“We’re trying to do what we can to help our residents become employed or re-employed, and even some who are underemployed, we want to address those needs too,” Boykin said.

They also help connect employers with already trained workers, Ehrhart said.

“When companies say ‘I need an employee with a certain skill,’ we’ll try to hook them up with schools that actually produce that type of worker,” Ehrhart said.

Manufacturing is the area with the largest need for skilled workers, Ehrhart said. That is why six companies have formed the Portage County Manufacturer’s Coalition.

The group hopes to get kids trained in these skills early, Ehrhart said.

“What they want to do is get into the grade schools, the middle schools, the high schools and talk to students, their parents, other influences like their teachers and guidance counselors and [tell them] manufacturing never died in this country,” Ehrhart said. “It just evolved and you can still find a rewarding career.”

Contact Lyndsey Schey at [email protected].