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Ohio's Economy Spent 2019 Struggling With Tariffs. Will 2020 Bring Relief?

Gov. Mike DeWine talks to farmer Kris Swartz in Perrysburg on June 19, 2019.
Nick Evans
Gov. Mike DeWine talks to farmer Kris Swartz in Perrysburg on June 19, 2019.

It looks like 2019 could be the first year in a decade where Ohio loses jobs. Will 2020 provide better job prospects in the state?

In November, Ohio added 6,700 jobs, but the number of people listed as technically unemployed still increased by about 1,000. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services reports Ohio’s unemployment rate was 4.2% in November, the same as the month before.

“Right now it’s looking like year-over-year growth is going to be somewhere in the range of 0.6 or 0.7%, less than half the national average,” says Bill LaFayette, economist and owner of Regionomics.

LaFayette says tariffs on Chinese imports, imposed by President Trump, topped a number of issues that pushed down job growth.

“Ohio agriculture and Ohio manufacturing have been by and large hurt by the tariffs,” says LaFayette.  “And as a result the businesses that serve those businesses are suffering. And the workers who work for those businesses are suffering, because they’re making less money.”

LaFayette says that after U.S. tariffs on imported Chinese goods took effect, China stopped buying soybeans here.

“As a result, one out of three Ohio rows of soybeans that used to go to China are not now," LaFayette says. "China has apparently signaled that they’re going to buy soybeans. (President) Trump announced that, but the damage has been done.”

The planting season also suffered due to wet conditions. Record rainfall this spring left more than one in seven acres covered by the federal crop insurance program unplantedin Ohio.

The good news is that Ohio had the lowest rate for farm bankruptcies in the Midwest, with just nine bankruptcy filings from July 2018-June 2019. That compares to 45 in Wisconsin, 39 in Kansas and 32 in Minnesota.

Other industries outside of farming have felt the economic pinch. LaFayette explains that U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum also hurt the fabricated metals industry, as those businesses have had to pay higher prices for steel.

LaFayette is hopeful that the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, will lead to new job growth.

“Canada is our largest trading partner,” says LaFayette. “And to the extent that the trade tensions with Canada are being alleviated by this agreement, that should be helpful for us.”

LaFayette says job hunters in Ohio can look forward to some openings in 2020. Construction is doing reasonably well and he expects agribusiness to continue to be a major driver of the state’s economy.  LaFayette says more than 900,000 people are currently employed in agribusiness-related jobs.

He says Columbus and Cincinnati continue to show a thriving job market where construction, banking, transportation and warehousing are all growing. 

“Companies are hiring even when the job market isn’t increasing because there’s so many retirements going on and those jobs have to be backfilled,” says LaFayette.

However, one of the factors that could hurt job growth is Ohio's declining Ohio population. According to LaFayette, the state predicts that Ohio’s working-age population between 25-65 will decline for the next 15 years.

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.