By TOM GIAMBRONI Staff Writer
LISBON - Columbiana County's estimated unemployment rate skyrocketed by nearly a third in January to 12.8 percent, well above the state and national averages.
According to figures available Tuesday from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, 6,900 county residents are listed as unemployed compared to 4,800 in December, when the local unemployment rate was 8.9 percent.
The estimated unemployment rate in January for Ohio was 9.7 percent and 8.5 percent for the United States. These are not the seasonably adjusted rates, which are lower and the ones commonly reported by the national news media.
The unemployment rate was the highest in the county since April 1984, when it stood at 12.9 percent and was declining from a peak of 21 percent reached in January 1983 at the height of the 1981-82 recession.
Jessica Borza runs the Mahoning-Columbiana Training Association/One Stop, the local state employment and job retraining office in Lisbon. "It's unbelievable. It's like nothing we've seen (during her employment)," she said.
Borza said the number of people contacting the office was up 50 percent in January to more than 1,000 compared to January 2008. "We're seeing an increase in traffic at the One-Stop that coincides with the increase" in the unemployment rate, she said.
Gloria Mathews, communication assistant for the MCTA/One-Stop, said it appears the layoffs continue to come in across the board, from major employers to small businesses.
"If you look at the work force, small businesses - those that employ under 100 - are the largest employment sector," she said. "It is these smaller operations who are laying off, one, two and three people at a time."
She also pointed out many of the layoffs probably occurred outside the area because nearly 40 percent of the county's workers commute to jobs outside the county.
The county is faring better than Mahoning County, which had an unemployment rate of 14.4 percent in January. The following are the unemployment rates for the other three adjoining counties: Carroll County, 12.8 percent; Jefferson County, 10.5 percent; and Stark County, 10.4 percent.
The county is one of 24 in Ohio with unemployment rates in excess of 10 percent. There are 88 counties in Ohio.
While the unemployment rate exploded, the actual number of people receiving unemployment benefits increased only slightly during the same period, from 2,550 as of Jan. 17 to 2,588 as of Feb. 21. The estimate is based on based on a federal formula which includes not only the number of people receiving unemployment compensation, but information received from monthly surveys of households, where occupants over the age of 16 are interviewed about their job status.
Mathews said the unemployment rate takes into account part-time workers who have been laid off but currently aren't entitled to unemployment compensation, those who didn't work long enough to qualify for benefits, and people who have simply quit looking for work.
"It's a pretty good gauge of things," she said of the unemployment rate.
Those who qualify are entitled to 26 weeks unemployment compensation and are eligible for an additional 33 weeks if the existing economic conditions continue.
For historical perspective, the national unemployment rate was 25 percent at the height of the Great Depression in 1933. Since 1950, the highest nationwide unemployment rate was 10.8 percent in 1982.