COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio's unemployment rate went down by several notches for the second month in a row in December amid another trend that doesn't sound quite as positive: By the thousands, people continued giving up looking for work or otherwise left the state's labor force.
Joblessness fell to 8.1 percent in December, from 8.5 percent in November, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services said Friday. The November rate had been down a full half-point from October, when unemployment in the state stood at an even 9 percent.
As in November, last month's decline was driven by shrinkage in the state's labor market, said Ben Johnson, a department spokesman. Some 21,000 Ohioans took themselves out of the labor force in December; officials had said 22,000 did so during November.
"We can certainly assume that some of those people have been unemployed for a long time and are discouraged and have given up looking for work," Johnson said, adding that others might have decided to go back to school or to put their job search on hold for the holidays.
The 8.1 percent jobless rate for December was the lowest since December 2008 and closed out a year of lower unemployment for Ohio. The state's preliminary average unemployment rate for 2011 was 8.8 percent, compared to 10.1 percent in 2009 and 2010.
"The economy has gotten better. We believe it will continue to slowly improve," Johnson said. "You kind of get two different stories when you look narrowly and specifically at December and when you look broadly at what has happened over the last 12 months."
Ohio's December joblessness was lower than the national rate of 8.5 percent. The number of workers unemployed in Ohio during December was 469,000, down from 496,000 in November, officials said.
Meanwhile, payrolls outside of farms also fell last month, by 3,300. The state saw job losses in both goods-producing and services industries, including construction, transportation and professional and business services. Manufacturing added 600 jobs and government hiring grew by 3,100.
"Government had cut so far back that now some governments are back-filling positions that have been vacant for a long time or are creating new positions that they had put on hold for 12 or more months," Johnson said.