County’s jobless rate shrinking

Between February and the end of March, 300 Washington County residents obtained new forms of employment, helping to drop the county’s unemployment rate by 2.2 percentage points.

Unemployment rates were released Friday by the Office of Workforce Development of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Unemployment rates across Ohio have decreased since February.

Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, said the unemployment drop in the county is significant.

“The unemployment rate in Washington County (in March) was 5.1 percent, down from 7.3 percent in February,” he said. “There were more people working; the number of people working in Washington County went from 28,600 in February to 28,900 in March.”

Johnson said this number is based on county residents working, not jobs created inside the county.

“There are 300 more people working than a month ago and exactly one year ago,” he said. “Unemployment has fallen as a result.”

Tom Ballengee, director of Washington County Job and Family Services, said there are many jobs available, if one is willing to look.

“I think some seasonal employment may have started a little early,” he said. “There’s still a lot of jobs out there. Just driving around town, you see signs for jobs.”

Unemployment rates for surrounding counties showed a decrease as well. In February, Athens County had a rate of 7.8 percent, which dropped to 7 in March. Monroe County had a rate of 14.2, which dropped to 12.5, which is still the highest in the state. Morgan County had a rate of 12.1 percent, which dropped to 10.8 percent. Noble County had a rate of 9 percent, which dropped to 7.6 percent.

There was a slight decrease in the overall size of the labor force in Washington County, which makes up those either working or actively searching for employment, Johnson said. He added that the decrease from 30,800 workers in February to 30,600 in March also helped the unemployment rate fall.

“We don’t know why people left the workforce,” he said. “We would like to see the labor force grow. It shrunk in the recession. In the last year or so, the labor force has begun to stabilize. As the economy continues to improve, the labor force will grow.”

Ohio experienced the largest month-to-month drop in its unemployment rate: 0.4 percentage points to 6.1 percent. The drop occurred because the state added 12,000 jobs last month. The total number of people in the state’s job market fell 11,200 to 5.75 million.

Employers added 192,000 jobs nationwide in March, close to the average monthly gains of the past two years. Despite this, the national rate stayed flat, at 6.7 percent, for the second straight month because someone was hired for almost every person who entered the job market last month.

Johnson said while the decrease in those unemployed is great news for the local economy, it’s hard to know if the rates will stay consistent.

“It’s difficult to predict and we have seen instances where numbers have been very volatile and changed rapidly (both positive and negative),” he said. “At times, we’ve seen steady growth.”

Washington County Commissioner David White said the drop in unemployment is a good sign.

“I’m thrilled for the local economy,” White said. “It means we’ve got more people working…It’ll help grow the economy.”

Johnson added that in March 2010, the unemployment rate was 10.2 percent in Washington County.