Bill Adams isn’t sure that whatever unemployment rate Ohio reports Friday morning for the month of March will be very telling because of timing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Adams, PNC Financial Services Group’s senior economist and senior vice president, says things are moving so rapidly in the state and national economies that jobless figures from a month ago likely are irrelevant to what is going on now. The March unemployment rate data was collected the second week of the month, meaning it will miss such things as the subsequent impact of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns caused by the viral outbreak, he said.
The March jobless rate still matters as an indicator “but it’s much less relevant,” he said. “Things are changing so fast now the March data is already out of date.”
It’s more important now to look at data coming from health officials, such as virus-related hospital admissions and newly diagnosed cases, to get a better idea on when the economy will begin improving, Adams said.
About 15% of Ohio’s labor force participants filed for unemployment benefits over the last four weeks, Adams said. That compares to 13.5% nationally.
“We can’t say the Ohio jobs market is worse than the national market,” Adams said Thursday.
That’s in part because people unemployed because of the pandemic also have been improperly filling out some of the information on forms used to determine the jobless rate, he said.
“I have totally stopped thinking about the March jobs report,” Adams said. “The economy has changed so much.”
Chris Bertka, meanwhile, is hoping that the economy recovers quickly enough that he gets a new job by the time he graduates from Kent State University with a master’s degree in mathematics this summer.
Bertka, 24, grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, and said he has been applying for jobs in multiple fields, including teaching, data analysis, and finance, for months. He’s a part-time adjunct professor at Kent State now but wants full-time employment.
He is now factoring in the impact of the pandemic on his job search. It’s already changed how he interacts with his students — Bertka now teaches online, uploading lectures for his undergraduate students to watch. He also knows his thesis defense won’t be face to face either, to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
“I am allowing for more time for employers to respond,” Bertka said. He assumes many businesses now have put hiring on hold.
“I imagine things will be harder going forward. That’s why I’m more patient with the job search,” he said.
People wanting to know what is happening with the economy will also have to be patient.
Adams said that economic data collection is slow and now hard to measure accurately. That sort of thing is typical during a natural disaster or national emergency, he said.
The April economic and employment data that will be out in upcoming weeks should be more telling, he said.
In any case, the state and the nation are in a very severe recession, with a huge number of people out of work in the state, Adams said.
Ohio residents filed 158,678 initial jobless claims to the U.S. Department of Labor for the week ending April 11, the state reported Thursday.
The number of initial jobless claims filed in Ohio over the last four weeks totals 855,197, showing the impact of government-enforced business closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
That total for the last four weeks of claims is 139,685 more than the combined total of 715,512 for the last two years, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
But fewer initial claims were filed last week than in the previous weeks when the pandemic began impacting jobs, state data shows.
Recent Ohio claims filed for the weeks ending:
• April 11: 158,678 claims
• April 4: 226,007
• March 28: 272,117
• March 21: 187,780
• March 14: 7,042
It’s too soon to tell if the smaller number of claims filed on April 11 is significant, Adams said. Economists typically want to look at a rolling four-week average of claims to get a better idea of what is happening, he said. And the government’s unemployment claims collection system is under historic strain and may not be accurately compiling figures just yet, he said.
Regardless, the claims that have been filed show a large impact on the job market, he said.
Nationally, 5.2 million people filed initial jobless claims last week.
The state said that it has paid more than $227 million in unemployment compensation payments to more than 271,000 claimants over the last four weeks.
Jim Mackinnon covers business. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or email@example.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.