Ohio's jobless rate dropped to an 18-year low last month even as the closing of General Motors' plant in Northeast Ohio took a toll on the state's manufacturing sector.

The unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent in March, the lowest rate since August 2001, according to Ohio Department of Job and Family Services figures released Friday. The rate was down from 4.6 percent in February.

The state's unemployment rate has been below 5 percent since September 2017, and hovered around 4.6 percent for much of the past year. Initial reports actually showed the rate was even lower, 4.3 percent, in April 2018, but that figure was later revised to 4.6 percent.

"It's a pretty good report," said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide. "Obviously, the headline is the drop in the unemployment rate to the lowest level since 2001. The rest of it is a microcosm of what's going on nationally."

As has been the case nationally, job growth in the state remains positive, the unemployment rate continues to drop and the labor force is growing, he said.

"Those are all good signs in the labor market," he said.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 3.8 percent last month.

Overall, the report showed the state's employers added 6,300 jobs last month and the number of unemployed workers fell by 7,000 to 258,000.

The increase came despite a loss of 2,400 manufacturing jobs last month, tied primarily to the GM plant closing in Lordstown.

The closing cost 1,600 workers at the plant their jobs, according to the state. In addition, suppliers to the plant have cut jobs, and Ayers said hiring in manufacturing has been slowing nationally.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector gave up 1,600 jobs last month, mostly due to cuts in wholesale trade.

The construction sector, which lost 3,900 jobs in February, regained 2,500 jobs last month with the arrival of spring and the resumption of outdoor work.

The sector that covers private education and health care added 2,600 jobs last month, the most of any sector. The leisure and hospitality sector added 2,100 jobs and the professional and business services sector added 1,200 jobs.

Several sectors and subsectors hit record high levels of employment in March: professional and business services; professional, scientific and technical services; private education and health services; health care and social assistance; leisure and hospitality; and arts, entertainment and recreation.

The lower unemployment report came also as the labor force swelled to 5.8 million last month, the highest level since 2010. Often, unemployment rates rise as more people come into the labor force and need time to find work.

"More and more employers looking for workers," Ayers said.

Ohio has added 39,800 jobs over the past year. Meanwhile, the number of unemployed workers has fallen by 1,000 during that time.

 

Mark Williams can be reached at mawilliams@dispatch.com and @BizMarkWilliams.