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Record Low Unemployment Statistics Leave Out Millions of Ohioans

Emily Campbell
Chief Executive Officer
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September 4, 2023
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Ohio’s unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in July 2023 was one of the lowest on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet this number tells only part of the story. Many Ohioans have removed themselves from the labor force completely and no longer count in official unemployment statistics.

Many Ohioans have removed themselves from the labor force completely and no longer count in official unemployment statistics.

According to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau between July 26 and August 7, 2023, 3.4 million Ohio adults over age 18 were not working at the time of the Census Household Pulse Survey. This is substantially higher than fewer than 200,000 who were reported to be unemployed during the same time period by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The difference is partly one of definitions. Workers are considered to be unemployed in official statistics if they are not working, but actively looking for work. Those who opt to not seek employment outside the home for any reason don’t show up at all.

According to the Census data, nearly half of the Ohio adults who were not working in late July and Early August were retired (47.1 percent). Another 5 percent did not report the reason they weren’t working. The main reason the remaining 1.6 million Ohio adults weren’t working is included in the chart below.

Transportation and caregiving demands are huge challenges

Over 100,000 Ohio adults said the main reason they weren’t working was because they didn’t have transportation to get to work, and 144,000 had been furloughed, laid off, or their employer had closed. Over 234,000 Ohio adults were caring for an elderly person or children not in school or daycare. Many more reported not working because they were sick or disabled. None of these people would count as being officially unemployed because the person is not actively looking for a job outside the home. The officially “unemployed” likely show up in the “other reason” category in the Census data. The main reason they are not working is because they haven’t found a job yet.

Reports from across the state indicate that the childcare workforce shortage has persisted and parents are finding it difficult to find suitable childcare for their families.

Since this data was collected in the summer, it is possible that more Ohioans will return to the labor force once children return to school. But reports from across the state indicate that the childcare workforce shortage has persisted and parents are finding it difficult to find suitable childcare for their families.

With unemployment so low, it’s easy to assume that anyone who wants a job can get one, and the rest are just lazy. Yet only 1.1 percent of Ohio adults who were not working in late July and early August did not want to be employed. When we expand our view to include other reasons people might not be working, a very different picture emerges.

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