Hiring up in Ohio. But it’s a painfully slow recovery.

Ohio saw modest employment growth in January, which more than recouped the jobs lost the prior month and helped bring down the unemployment rate, according to state data released Friday.

The state added 28,900 jobs, which was a significant improvement from December, when employers cut 14,500 workers, according to preliminary, seasonally adjusted data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

But employment in Ohio is still down about 5.5% from a year ago, or about 307,000 workers, and the state’s workforce has contracted in two out of the last four months.

“These monthly improvements, however, mask how bad the past year has been for Ohio,” said Rea Hederman Jr., executive director of the Economic Research Center at the Buckeye Institute. “Every sector of the economy lost jobs compared to January and February of 2020.”

Ohio’s workforce grew 0.5% in January, and the state’s unemployment rate dipped to 5.3% from 5.6% in December.

Some of the largest employment gains were in leisure and hospitality (+10,300 jobs), education and health services (+6,800), state government (+4,500) and local government (+1,700).

Ohio’s unemployment rate is well below the national rate of 6.3%, but it is higher than it was a year ago (4.5% in January 2020).

Ohio lost 836,700 jobs in April, the first full month following the coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders and lockdown measures.

Ohio saw strong payroll expansion in May and June, but it weakened significantly in July and August, and slowed again in September.

The state then lost nearly 40,000 jobs in October, which it gained back and then some in November (+65,000).

The state has added back more than two-thirds of the jobs that were wiped out in the early part of the pandemic (585,300), but the recovery has been inconsistent.

Many Ohio workers have been unemployed for nearly one year and the state is still down nearly 260,600 private-sector jobs ― more than 80% of which are in the hard-hit service sector, said Hederman, with the Buckeye Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank.

Lawmakers hopefully will implement policies and take steps to ensure the newly passed coronavirus relief aid will provide targeted assistance to hard-hit businesses, said Hederman.

Lawmakers also should expand programs to help unemployed workers develop marketable skills to help with the job hunt, he said.

Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning group, says the $1.9 trillion relief package recently signed by President Joe Biden is a lifeline that includes “much-needed” state and local government aid that will help them avoid further layoffs and rehire teachers and “critical” public employees.

“Ohio’s state legislators should use these federal funds to help those most in need and to reduce the longstanding inequities exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis,” said Hannah Halbert, the organization’s executive director.

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