Lauren Karch

Though unemployment rates are up nationwide and across Ohio, the Cincinnati-Middletown area has seen less of an increase than many of the state’s metros.

The Cincinnati-Middletown metro had the second-lowest jobless rate in Ohio at the end of 2008, bested only by Columbus, Ohio, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Cincinnati had a December unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, up from 6.1 percent in the previous month and 5 percent a year before. This rate was lower than the statewide rate of 7.6 percent.

Brian Harter, communications officer for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS), said that Ohio contains eleven metros, divided for statistical purposes by the United States Office of Management and Budget. Areas with the highest unemployment rates include Mansfield, at 9.9 percent and Toledo, at 9.8 percent.

Keith Ewald, chief of labor market information for ODJFS, said that Cincinnati-Middletown’s diversified job market attributes to its hardiness in tough times.

“Over the last 10 years or so, Columbus and Cincinnati have given our best performance in terms of economy,” he said. “Both have a very diversified industry makeup.”

Ewald said that areas dominated by one or two industry sectors see serious unemployment rates if one industry fails.

Many industries in the Cincinnati-Middletown metro, however, have not come under great duress within the last year.

“You have good strength in transportation and warehousing, which have grown in recent years,” Ewald said. “Both Cincinnati and Columbus are well-placed for logistics and shipping. One of the strongest sectors in the economy has been health and education. You’ve got significant universities and a considerable health infrastructure as well.”

While the area is strong in industries not impacted as much by the ailing economy-such as health, education, and professional services-it also has a smaller manufacturing sector, according to information from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“You have had less representation in manufacturing, and, particularly the types of manufacturing that have been hurt in the last year or so,” Ewald said. “The areas that have been hardest hit are manufacturing, and, in particular, auto manufacturing.”

Recent job cuts at AK Steel in Middletown have affected the local economy, but have not brought the unemployment rate to the high state average, according to Ewald.

“Steel is the one area in which you’ve probably been hurt the most, but it’s not a huge percentage of the overall workforce.”

Even though the local jobless rate bests the state average, Ewald said he warns that the Cincinnati-Middletown metro may see more job loss than in previous, milder recessions.

“The economy has had some pretty sharp downturns over the last year, and even cities that have weathered milder recessions have seen some damage,” he said. “There may be rougher months ahead.”

Harter says that recent data put Cincinnati’s jobless rate for January at 6.4 percent.