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Business & Economy

Central Ohio Economy Loosening Grip of COVID-19; Optimism For 2022

 A fast food drive through in Columbus is closed due to a lack of workers.
Karen Kasler
Ohio Public Radio
A fast food drive through in Columbus is closed due to a lack of workers.

Central Ohio’s 2021 economy improved from 2020, but one local economist points to growing COVID-19 infections and inflation as still slowing the recovery.

“Together with COVID, I think this rapid run-up in inflation is what’s killed consumer sentiment which is now at its lowest level in a decade,” said economist and founder of Regionomics, Bill Lafayette.

Lafayette said the unemployment rate in Central Ohio in October stood at 3.7%. That’s lower than the 4.5% rate in October 2020. However, he said that does not tell the whole story.

“There are now 23,000 fewer people in the Central Ohio labor force than there were when the pandemic broke a year ago in February,” said Lafayette. He explains that some industries are struggling to hire enough workers.

“The employment in leisure and hospitality generally is still about 15% below where it was when the pandemic broke,” said Lafayette. “Restaurants are having an unusually difficult time finding workers.”

Lafayette said more people need to get vaccinated to help the economy grow. In Ohio, 59.2% of the population has started the vaccination process. In the U.S. 61.5 % of the population is fully vaccinated.

Lafayette said some economic sectors in 2021 have profited during the pandemic, namely transportation and distribution.

“Here in Central Ohio employment bounced back immediately after the economy opened. Seventeen percent above before where it was before the pandemic hit. Much better than the national average.”

Lafayette is hopeful next year the U.S. infrastructure bill passed by Congress will lead to more jobs in Ohio. It’s expected to add construction jobs for new roads and bridges, as well as expand broadband capacity in areas not currently served.

“That’s going to certainly create many jobs,” said Lafayette. “It’s going to repair the state’s infrastructure that’s badly in need of repair.”

Lafayette is also optimistic inflation will drop in 2022 to ease prices and motivate consumers.

“By the end of 2022, the forecast is that inflation should be down into the mid 2’s. certainly better than it has been recently,” said Lafayette.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.