Unemployment numbers top 14 percentWritten by Bridget Tharp | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The staggering figures were released: 14.3 percent of workers in the city of Toledo and 13.3 percent in Lucas County were jobless in January, according to Ohio’s Department of Job & Family Services.
That figure puts January among the worst months for Northwest Ohio job seekers in four decades, topped only by the first three months in 1983. Area unemployment reached 14.5 percent in March 1983.
“I’ve been dreading those numbers, just dreading them,” Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur said.
But with the recent elimination of manufacturing and auto-related jobs, the trouble was clear long before those numbers appeared, local officials say.
“Unfortunately, I’m not surprised,” Lucas County Commissioner Pete Gerken said. “It’s a number we should be shocked by, but it’s a number we saw coming.”
It could be worse.
Huron County suffered the worst job crisis in the state, with 18.3 unemployed in January.
Lucas County’s neighbors, Fulton and Ottawa, recorded 17 percent and 15.3 percent unemployment, respectively.
Why isn’t it better?
Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop points to Cuyahoga County — with only 7.6 percent unemployment — as a model for what should be done here. The county hosts the state’s second most populated city, Cleveland, which had 9.4 percent unemployment in January.
The secret of their lower unemployment, Konop says, is that officials there refused to bank on manufacturing jobs.
“What Cleveland did and what we haven’t done is diversify our economy. Cleveland invested in health care. We haven’t done a good job there. I think we are starting to, but it’s late in the game,” Konop said.
The county hopes the $5 million from the federal Recovery Bill awarded to Lucas County’s Workforce Development Agency will turn it all around.
The cash will be used to create employment opportunities and retrain the jobless, Gerken said.
Kaptur said she told her fellow legislators that the Toledo area needs special attention during the economic crisis. It was among the first to be slammed by the national economic downturn, she said, because Toledo runs on the sweat of agricultural and factory workers producing goods and is not insulated by sort of the white-collar “wealth traders” or public officials of New York City, Chicago or even Columbus.
“We get hit. Hit hard, like when a football player gets hit, or a wrestler thrown to the ground,” she said.
The solution lies in diversifying the skills of former manufacturing employees and investing in technological innovations, like green energy, value-added agriculture, and strategic metals, Kaptur said.
With the Center for Photovoltaic Electricity and Hydrogen at the University of Toledo and new green industries emerging here, the area will be the hub of those innovations, Kaptur said.
Gbenga Ajilore, an economics professor at UT who studies the diversity of the work force, said it may be a couple years before college classrooms swell with unemployed workers.
“We are going through a huge structural change,” Ajilore said. “The kind of industry that this area relied on for a long time are not the kind of jobs that are going to be there in the future.”
“I think one of the things that people are realizing is that it’s not enough to have a high school degree,” Ajilore said. “We haven’t seen a different type of student just yet, because you have to figure out, what’s my major going to be, and to help the re-entry students adjust to going back to school.”
Helping businesses to diversify their operations is something the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce is doing, said Bill Wersell, director of the Small Business Development Center at the chamber. Last month, the chamber held a special training and networking event for business owners: “Recession-Proofing Your Business: Local Resources to the Rescue.”
“They’re not expanding their business,” Wersell said of the changes business owners discuss with his organization. “They have to expand their horizons.”
The center may help, for example, by suggesting to manufacturers that may have supplied the automotive industry to stay relevant by considering marketing to alternative energy companies, Wersell said.
“The upside is that business owners are really having to once again look at their total business, diversify their business so that they are no longer selling to one supplier,” Wersell said. “It will get better. Businesses are really re-adjusting to the changes in the economy. They are learning how to survive with the new challenges.”