The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, June 23, 2020 1:00 am

Area jobless rate drops to 13.5%

Down from April's 19.4% as retailers, eateries reopen

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Unemployment in the Fort Wayne area was 13.5% in May, with 29,930 in the labor force without work, figures released Monday show.

In April, the area jobless rate was even higher than May – at 19.4%, reflecting a number of businesses still closed or with operations significantly scaled back due to the governor's stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A year ago in May, the jobless rate for the area was 2.7%.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development said the labor force last month was 221,007 in the Fort Wayne metropolitan area composed of Allen, Whitley and Wells counties. That was slightly higher than the 218,391 in the labor force in May 2019 when 5,980 in the labor force were without jobs.

The Fort Wayne-area jobless rate was higher than the 11.9% for Indiana in May, which was 12.3% when seasonally adjusted. A year ago, Indiana's unemployment rate was 3% or 3.3% seasonally adjusted. Experts say it is more meaningful to compare the same month year to year due to seasonal variations such as holidays and school schedules.

For May, Noble County was among the 10 Indiana counties with the highest unemployment – 16.2%, tied for seventh with Lake County. With a labor force of 24,712, nearly 4,000 residents in Noble County were unemployed in May. A year ago, the jobless rate was 2.7%.

Howard County, which includes Kokomo, topped the list of Indiana's 92 counties with 21.8% unemployment, while Daviess County in the southwestern part of the state had the lowest rate at 5.6% 

The decline in the Fort Wayne area is “a bit of a relief,” but doesn't indicate what the long-term economic recovery will look like, said Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute.

“If consumer spending picks up locally and nationally, which will require a sustained level of confidence in the economy and by proxy public health, we should continue to see reduced unemployment rates but we have a long way to go before we get back to full employment,” Blakeman said in a statement. 

Northeast Indiana Works spokesman Rick Farrant said the lingering high unemployment shows “we aren't out of the woods yet.”

“The two big unknowns are what will happen to supply chains nationally and how pervasive COVID-19 will be moving forward,” he said in a statement. “Unfavorable trends in either case could stall a continuing recovery.”

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