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County’s jobless rate takes big jump

Lawrence County’s jobless rate spiked to 7.8 percent in February, according to figures released this week by the Ohio Department of Job And Family Services.

That was the highest Lawrence County’s jobless rate has been since January 2002.

Lawrence County’s jobless rate in January was 7.6 percent, an increase of more than 2 points from December’s 5.2 percent.

January’s and February’s showings are a departure from a long-established pattern: For the last two years, Lawrence County’s jobless rate has stayed at or close to 5.5 percent, with occasional dips as low as 4.6 percent in April 2008 and spikes as high as 6.1 in June 2008.

Lawrence County Commissioner Jason Stephens said he thought the hike in the local rate reflected the increases nationally and on the state level.

Even with this bad news, Lawrence County’s unemployment situation is better than that of most of its neighbors. Lawrence was tied with Holmes County for third-best jobless rate in the state.

Dr. Bill Dingus, executive director of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, said while he doesn’t like seeing those 7-percent rates, the key to putting these unemployment rates into perspective is to gauge our area against other parts of the state and viewing unemployment relatively: how is Lawrence County faring as compared with other counties?

Adams County posted a 16.1 percent unemployment rate in February— one of the highest among Ohio’s 88 counties. Pike County’s was 16 percent, Meigs County’s jobless rate was 15.2 percent; Jackson County’s was 11.9 percent and Ross County posted a February unemployment rate of 12 percent.

Scioto County’s jobless rate last month was 11.8 percent.

Among the state’s 88 counties, the February 2009 unemployment rates ranged from a low of 6.3 percent in Delaware County to a high of 18.0 percent in Huron County.

Rates increased in 63 of the 88 counties.

Dingus said he thinks there are several factors that contribute to Lawrence County’s better-than-other-places unemployment rate.

One factor is economic diversity: Instead of one or two big industries we have several smaller ones that are not all tied to the same sectors of trade.

Stephens agreed.

He pointed out that the last time the national economy was in recession, Lawrence County’s jobless rate was in double digits because many of the bigger industries that once dominated the local landscape were laying off hundreds of workers and closing their doors.

Dingus said the thinks another factor is the work ethic here.

“Our people understand that at this time they may have to take a cutback and in others areas people take layoffs,” Dingus explained.

“I think our people are more committed to staying employed and some are doing jobs below their abilities.”

Being part of a Tri-State area and being able to draw on the strengths of other states is also a plus.

“I do think the Tri-State, again, relatively speaking is not in too bad a shape. We’re holding our own,” Dingus said.

Ohio’s unemployment rate as a whole was 9.4 percent, an increase from January’s 8.8 percent.