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

Local jobless rate sees dip

Hits 4.8%, but region's labor force falls by 2,890 people

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne MSA's jobless rate declined in November to 4.8%, slightly less than the 5.1% recorded in October, according to data released Monday by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The unemployment rate was 3.1% in November 2019. Experts say year-to-year comparisons are the most accurate because they eliminate seasonal variations. The novel coronavirus pandemic and its effects on the labor market have upended that conventional wisdom, however.

The local metropolitan statistical area includes Allen, Wells and Whitley counties.

Indiana's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.0% in November, well below the national seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 6.7%. Experts say county and MSA data are too small to make seasonal adjustments.

Economists also say an unemployment rate of less than 5.0% signals full employment. The number never reaches zero because the labor force includes people who are recent graduates, who have moved to follow a spouse and who are temporarily laid off because of fluctuations in customer demand.

Rachel Blakeman, director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne, said the shrinking labor force “shows the enduring economic effects of the pandemic.”

The Fort Wayne MSA's labor force declined by 2,890 people in one month, to 217,617 in November. That number includes those employed and those looking for work.

Blakeman said a few factors could be at play.

“There are no particular events in November, unlike the shutdown orders or students returning to school, that CRI can identify that would drive down the labor force so uniformly other than pandemic fatigue of workers,” she said in a statement. “We can anticipate that we are seeing the diffuse effects of the virus – parents who left the workforce because of unpredictable school schedules, workers who have given up looking for employment either out of concern for exposure to the virus or jobs not available in their particular industry and older workers who accelerated their retirement schedule.”

Blakeman expects the trend to continue – at least for the near term.

“Until the vaccine is in wide distribution and adopted by a significant share of the public, we can expect to see these shaky numbers into the first or second quarter of 2021,” she said.

Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works' spokesman, said the declining labor force numbers “are warning signs on the horizon.”“Many businesses are hanging on by a thread and resiliency is waning in some sectors,” he said in a statement.

“In the last few months, we've seen at least four manufacturers in northeast Indiana announcing closures, leaving hundreds of workers out of jobs. That does not include the impact the pandemic has had on businesses in the retail and food and accommodation sectors.

“Moreover,” he added, “while there are still many job openings in northeast Indiana, businesses are finding it increasingly hard to find workers.” 

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