With a statewide spike in unemployment in the past year, the Union County Department of Job and Family Services has also been feeling the strain as more and more county residents turn to the department for help.

With a statewide spike in unemployment in the past year, the Union County Department of Job and Family Services has also been feeling the strain as more and more county residents turn to the department for help.

"What the real challenge is, despite what is easily a 50 percent increase in request for services, we've had to downsize our staff by at least 25 percent because of funding cuts," said director Joe Float. "My workers are doing 50 percent more work each overall."

Last July, Union County's unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. That number has risen almost steadily since then: August 2008 (5.5), September (5.3), October (5.3), November (5.6), December (6.1), January 2009 (7.6), February (8), March (8.4), April (8.4), May (8.2), and June (9.1). Last month's unemployment rate in Union County was 9.3 percent.

"I wouldn't venture a specific guess on (why the county's rate has increased), but that is consistent with the state of Ohio overall, in fact that's lower than the state average," Float said. "I think there are a number of Union County individuals that work outside the county that might account for some of it, and a number of people working in temporary services whose positions have been downsized, but I couldn't be more specific than that."

Float said statistics show residents have been utilizing the UCDJFS more as the unemployment rate increases.

"There has been an increase in the number of food stamp recipients on a monthly basis from 364 (in July 2008) to 630 in July 2009," Float said. "Those receiving cash benefits have gone up from 78 a year ago to 114 in July 2009. Regarding our Employment Resource Center, we had 953 monthly visits a year ago, and we had 1,122 in July 2009, which is not as dramatic an increase."

Float said that the UCDJFS saw a total of 1,762 applications for benefits logged in 2008, and in the first seven months of this year has already logged 1,785. "357 of those are new participants who have never been at the Department of Job and Family Services before," he said.

Although cold, hard numbers show a strain in the county's work force, Float said he has witnessed an intangible factor in the people that come through the doors of his department - optimism.

"There's a spirit of optimism, especially in those who are visiting the resource center as well as the staff that mans the center," Float said. "There's a feeling that people are finding an opportunity, and are using these benefit programs to bridge the gap between positions. That's pretty much what we're trying to do, is provide that bridge to cover the displacement, to add another viable employment situation, and we're pretty much a full-service shop in that regard."

More services can be found at http://w2.co. union.us/djfs, or by calling 937-644-1010.