NEWARK — The health of the Licking County economy mirrors the health concerns of its residents, as the persistent coronavirus pandemic takes a toll on household finances.
The leisure and hospitality industry has been decimated by forced closures, social distancing restrictions and health fears. Unemployment remains above 7%, sales tax and income tax collections are down, and car sales and commercial building investments are the lowest in years.
All this on top of the recent ALICE report which showed that two years ago, before COVID-19 and with a much stronger economy, 34% of Licking County households had incomes not keeping pace with the costs of essentials such as food, transportation, health care, childcare and housing.
Dennis Harrington, attorney with Southeast Ohio Legal Services, said he has not seen things improving for the clients it serves, especially those who may lose their home.
“Clearly, the evictions are a problem,” Harrington said. “Landlord-tenant calls about doubled for the third quarter. It’s so hard to find another place and people are hurting financially. People are not aware of the resources to help people behind in rent.”
Harrington said SEOLS received 129 calls on landlord-tenant matters in the third quarter of this year, compared to 65 such calls during the same period in 2019. And, requests for legal aid increased from just five in the first three quarters of 2019 to 32 in just the last two quarters of 2020.
“I don’t think it’s getting better,” Harrington said. “I think it’s getting worse. This doesn’t seem to be going away. The number of calls are going up and they seem to be more desperate. They’re nervous, scared and frustrated.”
Evictions are down for the year in Licking County due to a CARES Act moratorium and a Center for Disease Control order, Harrington said. There were no evictions in April or May, but there were 324 in the next four months.
Despite all the dismal numbers, there are parts of the economy surviving the downturn or even thriving. Residential building is up 18% compared to 2019. New home building and average home sale prices continue to set records.
Pat Guanciale, a local real estate agent with Coldwell Banker King Thompson, said its amazing how the average sale price of homes continues to increase, even during the pandemic.
Through the first three quarters of the each year, the average sale price of a Licking County home was $147,625 in 2012, then $177,276 in 2016, jumped to $221,572 in 2019 and $245,089 this year. It was $260,603 in the third quarter this year.
“It’s just supply and demand,” Guanciale said. “It’s all price ranges. I don’t think the presidential election is going to slow anything either. No matter who wins, it’s not slowing anything down for a while. We haven’t missed a beat because of COVID. It just hasn’t stopped.”
The number of home sales this year remains slightly below 2019, due to a drop in the second quarter, but sales in the third quarter were 6.5% above 2019. Home building is up 15% this year over 2019 and more than any year in more than a decade.
The leisure and hospitality industry could not be more opposite than home-building. The 10-county Columbus area lost more than one-fourth of its leisure and hospitality employees this year, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
Dan Moder, executive director of Explore Licking County, said the county’s convention and visitors bureau expects to lose almost half of its normal revenue from the lodging tax. Local hotel occupancy has rebounded from less than 10% in April when everything shut down, to about 40% now.
Instead of receiving almost $400,000, Explore anticipates it will get about $220,000 this year. Moder said it will likely be the second quarter of 2021 before the industry returns to near normal, with large group meetings returning.
The city of Heath has suffered more than its neighbors in income tax collections, down almost 8% from 2019.
“It’s definitely a concern,” Heath Mayor Mark Johns said. “Thankfully, things have not cratered out. There’s no doubt, Heath has a broad spectrum of employee categories. Restaurant and retail being a significant part of that mix. Those two areas have seen, and continue to see, impact from COVID-19.”
The mayor said the city has not made any personnel cuts, but it did reduce its paving this year by about half.
“I think one of the difficult things, as we put together a budget for 2021, is the uncertainty of the revenue,” Johns said. “A budget is like looking into a crystal ball to begin with. With such uncertainty around COVID-19, that crystal ball is quite cloudy at this time.”
Licking County’s essential manufacturers have remained open all year and some employers continue to advertise job openings, but thousands remain unemployed.
Ohio Means Jobs/Licking County workforce development administrator Angela Carnahan said things have definitely improved since April, when unemployment hit 13%. During a seven-week period from mid-March to late April, 13,077 Licking Countians filed unemployment claims.
“It looks to me like people are going back to work, if they’re able to go back to work,” Carnahan said. “Employers are scrambling, trying to get things ramped up going into the holiday season.”
But, there remained 6,500 unemployed in Licking County in August while numerous manufacturers are looking for employees.
Carnahan said training money is available for people displaced by COVID-19.
“If they’re out of a job or on reduced hours and need help to get skills, we have resources to help them,” Carnahan said. “We really need to get the word out to individuals not working to get additional skills. Is there something you always wanted to be trained to do?”
Harrington said he does not believe people are just collecting unemployment and refusing to look for work.
“I don’t buy that,” Harrington said. “There’s no data to back that up. People want to work. I don’t think people will sit around and not work, just so they can get a free check.”
Sarah Wiley, a SEOLS staff attorney focused on unemployment, said jobs are often not filled because of health concerns and childcare issues, in additional to the ongoing issue of transportation. She said unemployment pays about half of the regular salary, so even the extra $600 paid our earlier this year would not have discouraged people from working.
“When you are a parent and have a kid at home all day, it’s not legal to leave a 9-year-old home alone,” Wiley said. “Their childcare was school.”
Licking County economic report
Following are economic indicators in Licking County through three quarters of 2020 and 2019, followed by the percent change. Million designated with (m).
Indicator: 2020, 2019, Change
Foreclosures: 163, 281, -41.9%
Home sales: 1,854,1,882, -1.5%
Home sale prices: $245,089, $221,572, 10.6%
Unemployment (Aug.): 7.3%, 3.9%, 3.4 points
Bankruptcies: 301, 415, -27.5%
County sales tax: $30.5m, $30.7m, -0.4%
Car/truck sales: 4,997, 6,334, -21.1%
Newark income tax: $17.8m, 18.3m, -2.4%
Heath income tax: $6.9m, $7.5m, -7.8%
Granville income tax: $3.16m, $3.20m, -1.4%
Commercial building: $83.6m, $244.2m, -65.7%
Residential building: $137.8m, $116.3m, 18.5%
New homes: 455, 396, 14.9%
Call for help
Southeast Ohio Legal Services for help receiving unemployment benefits, 740-345-0850.
Ohio Means Jobs Licking County for job training, 740-670-8700.
Ohio Means Jobs Licking County for emergency support services, 740-670-8706.
Read or Share this story: https://www.newarkadvocate.com/story/news/2020/10/11/coronavirus-pandemic-takes-toll-health-licking-county-economy/5941570002/