Last month, Ohio led the nation in creating new jobs.
It's an encouraging sign. The job situation in the state is expected to continue improving, although economists warn that the job gains likely will be slow.
The 37,300 new jobs created in Ohio in April were the most in any of the 50 states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ohio was followed by Pennsylvania (34,000 new jobs), New York and Texas. Nonfarm payrolls increased in 38 states in April but fell in 12 states.
Ohio's numbers have given hope that unemployment may finally begin to fall. Ohio's unemployment rate has been worse than the national rate since 2003, and the Buckeye State was hit hard by the recession.
The 37,300 new jobs included many jobs in seasonal industries that tend to come to life as the weather turns warmer. Ohio gained 5,200 jobs in the leisure and hospitality industry and picked up 5,500 jobs in construction.
Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for Ohio Job and Family Services, points out that 12,300 new manufacturing jobs also were created in Ohio during April.
"That isn't seasonal work," he said. "We saw that as a really positive gain."
Much of the increase in manufacturing is believed to be from people going back to work in the automobile industry, Johnson said.
Johnson said the state's labor economists don't issue forecasts for the future, but said that in Ohio from January to April, the unemployment rate has fluctuated within a narrow range, from 10.8 percent to 11.0 percent.
"We are very hopeful that that stabilization means that the economy has bottomed out and we are going to climb out of the recession," he said.
The Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee predicts that national unemployment will fall from the current 9.9 percent to a range of 9.1 percent to 9.5 percent this year, improving to 6.6 percent to 7.5 percent by 2012.
Guhan Venkatu, an economist in the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said that he'll defer to that official forecast when asked about Ohio's fate, but added, "that's sort of the expectation here for the state as well."
Venkatu noted that the Federal Reserve is predicting a slow, gradual recovery in employment.
Many unemployed workers in Ohio have been able to remain on unemployment for close to two years. The average worker getting unemployment benefits stays on them for 22 weeks, but workers can stay on unemployment for 99 weeks, Johnson said.
During the week of May 15, 350,757 Ohioans were getting unemployment benefits, he said.
Relatively small numbers of Ohioans have completely exhausted their benefits, Johnson said, because Congress has kept extending them. During April, 9,700 people exhausted their maximum 99 weeks, he said.
Unless Congress extends the benefits still further, many more people will be reaching the end of their unemployment benefits, he said. It's estimated that 100,000 Ohioans could run out of unemployment benefits in June, he said.
Democratic lawmakers in Congress are pushing to keep unemployment benefits going until the end of 2010 for workers who otherwise would exhaust them.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, told Ohio journalists last week in a conference call he expects lawmakers to approve another extension of unemployment benefits.
"It's a values issue. These folks in many instances didn't cause the Wall Street crisis," Ryan said.
"I think it will get done here in the next few weeks," he said. "It is critical that we get it done."
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also expects the Senate to extend unemployment benefits, a spokeswoman said last week.
Ohio's unemployment rate consistently has been higher than the national rate since 2003.
From 1999 to 2003, Ohio's unemployment rate closely tracked the national rate. Since June 2003, however, Ohio's unemployment has been worse than the national rate.
Midwestern states that have relied heavily on manufacturing, particularly auto manufacturing, "have been hit very hard in the current recession," Johnson said.
Michigan, even more dependent on the auto industry than Ohio, had an unemployment rate of 14 percent in April, the highest of any state.
Venkatu said he agrees Ohio, Michigan and Indiana have relied heavily on automobile manufacturing, particularly the domestic nameplates.
Employment in manufacturing has been hurt not just by the recession but by two long-term trends, Vankatu said. Manufacturers have become more efficient, using fewer workers to produce the same amount of goods, and production has been moving to the southern parts of the country, he said.
The statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that across the country, joblessness has hit some groups harder than others.
Across the U.S., there were 15.3 million unemployed people in April. The U.S. unemployment rate in April was 9.9 percent, versus an unemployment rate of 10.9 percent in Ohio and 11.3 percent in Erie County.
The national unemployment rate last month was 10.1 percent for adult men, 8.2 percent for adult women and 254 percent for teenagers. It was 6.8 percent for Asians, 9.0 percent for whites, 12.5 percent for Hispanics and 16.5 percent for blacks.