Unemployment rates decreasing as economy makes a comeback

Jamie Shearer

Work may be picking up in Portage County.

At 9.1 percent, the unemployment rate for August is the lowest it has been since last November.

The rate was down from 9.9 percent in July, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

Tim Beckner, One-Stop manager at the Portage Workforce Connection, or the county unemployment office, said job outlook is improving.

In May, the unemployment office held a health care job fair where 59 people out of 230 were offered jobs.

“That’s excellent for a job fair,” Beckner said.

The county is fairing better than most Ohio counties, which have unemployment rates up to 15 percent.

Four of the five counties surrounding Portage have higher unemployment rates, with Summit, Stark, Mahoning and Trumbull counties’ rates ranging from 9.4 to 11.4 percent. Geauga is the only surrounding county with a lower unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.

Portage County’s economy gets a boost from colleges benefitting from the stimulus and health care facilities with available jobs.

The state as a whole is getting better, too. Ohio’s unemployment rate has decreased in the past five months and presently stands at 10.1 percent.

“(It is) slowly and steadily improving,” said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, adding that after five months of steady improvement, they expect it to keep getting better.

One program helping statewide is Project HIRE (Hometown Investment in Regional Economies), which reimburses companies up to $6,000 per individual for training wages.

The stimulus-funded program began in September 2009 and will finish at the end of 2010. The state provides $7 million to pay for employee training and $1 million for events such as job fairs through.

Johnson describes it as a “great program” because “employers commit to hiring the person.”

“At the end of the program there is a guaranteed job,” he said.

As of Sept. 14, the state had spent about $5.4 million subsidizing 1,561 employees’ training statewide. Geauga, Ashtabula and Portage counties, which are in Area 19 of the Workforce Investment Act, have had 75 people participate in the program. The state has spent about $196,000 on training in those three counties.

“The job market is getting better across the state of Ohio,” Johnson said, attributing it to private sector hiring.

Manufacturers are also bringing people back to work. According to a report released Sept. 15 by The Brookings Institution, Youngstown had the biggest manufacturing employment increase in the country at 8.9 percent during the second quarter.

Although job outlook is improving, the change is gradual.

“It’s not getting worse,” Beckner said. “It seems to be getting a little better as we go on. It’s a very slow recovery.”

To read more on this topic, check out Recession over and economy slowly rising, Race to the top and Video: Kent Social Services.

Contact Jamie Shearer at [email protected].