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The Journal Gazette

City jobless rate stubbornly high; ‘skills gap’ cited

The latest unemployment figures don’t suggest a quick turnaround.

Joblessness in metropolitan Fort Wayne dipped to 8.9 percent in February. The results are better than January’s 9.1 percent, according to preliminary data released Friday from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Metro Fort Wayne is composed of Allen, Whitley and Wells counties.

Last week, regional economy watchers groaned after a report released by the department showed unemployment rose for the third consecutive month in January.

After all, things were looking up in October as metro Fort Wayne watched the jobless number drop below 7 percent for the first time in four years.

Just as it’s too soon to say whether employment is trending north, it is also premature to say the recovery has stalled.

Unemployment rates fell in 22 states in February from January. They increased in 12 and were unchanged in 16, the Labor Department said Friday.

Nationally, employers have added 200,000 jobs a month since February, double the rate from last spring.

The number of Hoosiers out of work statewide, however, increased in February with a seasonally adjusted rate of 8.7 percent, up from 8.6 percent in January. Even so, the big reason given for the uptick is more people returning to the labor force, officials said. The Department of Workforce Development release says Indiana added 22,000 job seekers in January and February – the largest two-month boost in nearly 20 years.

“While the extraordinary jump in the Hoosier labor force over the past two months tells us folks are optimistic about Indiana’s economic recovery, the unemployment rate is still too high,” said Scott Sanders, commissioner of the department. “Job growth is certainly moving in the right direction, but there is definitely a good deal more work to do.”

And positions to fill.

Joel Daas, area manager for Manpower, said employers are having a tough time locating skilled trades’ workers. Electrical maintenance, welding, computer-assisted drafting and informational technology are among the positions.

Daas said employers aren’t wasting time when “these types of workers” come through their doors.

“They don’t want to lose them to someplace else,” he said. Manpower is a research and job placement service.

This month, the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey reported that Hoosier companies “expect to hire at an active pace” from April to June. Nineteen percent of the 282 Indiana businesses polled said they will add more workers.

The majority, 72 percent, will maintain staff levels.

“Anyone in skilled trades is in demand right now and can have their pick of where they want to go,” Daas said. “Companies are frustrated because they can’t find them.”

In other words, Daas says the much ballyhooed “skills gap” is real.

Regionally, only Michigan saw unemployment drop in February with an 8.8 percent rate, compared with 8.9 percent in January.

Joblessness in Ohio and Kentucky remained unchanged at 7 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively; Illinois rose to 9.5 percent from 9 percent.

February unemployment in the four Ohio counties bordering northeast Indiana – Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert and Williams – was released this week. Defiance posted 7.8 percent joblessness, compared with 8.3 percent in January; Paulding was 7.5 percent, compared with 8 percent; Van Wert was 7.6 percent, compared with 8.5 percent; and Williams reported 7.8 percent unemployment, compared with 8.8 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.