The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, September 22, 2020 1:00 am

Area jobless rate continues to fall

Labor force grows in August as more companies hire

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Unemployment in the Fort Wayne metro area dropped to 6.4% last month, down from 8.2% in July as businesses continued ramping back up amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A year ago in August, the area's jobless rate was just 3.1%, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Comparing the same month year to year is usually considered the best contrast, based on seasonal hiring fluctuations. But many data watchers are paying close attention to monthly changes to gauge the comeback from unprecedented business shutdowns that occurred during the spring due to stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Allen, Wells and Whitley counties comprise the Fort Wayne metropolitan statistical area.

The area's labor force rose to 218,185 in August compared with 217,455 in July. In August 2019, the labor force for the three counties numbered 219,498, figures from the state show.

Several Fort Wayne-area counties, including Adams, LaGrange, Steuben, Wells and Whitley – had unemployment rates below 5%, indicating a return to what is considered full employment, Rick Farrant, spokesman for Northeast Indiana Works, said in an emailed statement. But all northeast Indiana counties had a smaller labor force last month compared with the year before. The state measures where people live, not where people work.

In July, the shrinking unemployment rate was partly due to people leaving the workforce. The August data indicates more workers returning to employment, Farrant said in a joint statement with Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

Labor market data measure those employed or actively seeking employment, they said. It does not look at wages or whether people are working full or part time.

“Considering that less than six months ago, we were in double-digit unemployment rates, this recovery has been impressively rapid, especially since economists were concerned earlier this year that the labor market recovery could stall out over the summer,” Blakeman said. 

Farrant said hiring in northeast Indiana “continues to be robust across many industry sectors and occupations.”

“It is conceivable, barring unforeseen pandemic-related circumstances, that we could reach a point where many employers face worker shortages,” he said. “That was the situation before the pandemic hit.”

Statewide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August was 6.4%, down from 7.9% in July, and double the 3.2% in August 2019. Nationally, August unemployment was 8.4%, down from 10.2% in July. A year ago in August, it was 3.7%.

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