The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, March 30, 2021 1:00 am

Area jobless rate declines to 4.4%

Labor force shrinks by 1,720 people

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne metropolitan area's jobless rate dipped slightly to 4.4% in February from 4.5% in January, according to data released Monday by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Last month's unemployment rate was 1 full percentage point higher than February 2020's rate of 3.4%. Experts say year-to-year comparisons are the most accurate because they eliminate seasonal fluctuations. The pandemic and its effects on the labor market have upended that conventional wisdom, however.

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

The Fort Wayne metropolitan area's labor force shrank by 1,720 people from January to February. The number of jobless declined by 206, to 9,629, during the same period.

Looking at year-to-year data, unemployment increased by 2,229 from February 2020 to last month. Indiana's seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 4% in January, well below the national seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 6.2%. Experts say county and metro-area data are too small to make seasonal adjustments.

Adams County tied with LaGrange County for the lowest unemployment rate in Indiana at 2.9%. Adams and LaGrange also tied in January for the lowest jobless rates in the state, but that month they tied at 2.7%

Howard County, the central Indiana home of Kokomo, saw the state's highest jobless rate at 8.5%.

Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, reviewed the data.

She said it's become difficult to separate natural market variations from effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which began a year ago this month.

“Regardless, we have the twin data of a smaller labor market coupled with unemployment rates comfortably below 5% in many northeast Indiana counties,” she said in a statement.

“As vaccines become more readily available and pandemic-related restrictions lift, I will be watching to see if workers rejoin the labor force this spring.”

Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works' spokesman, said unemployed workers have options and opportunities.

“The challenge moving forward – and it is a significant one – is filling the thousands of job openings currently available in the region,” he said in a statement. “It is definitely a job seekers' market, and it is critical that workers on the sidelines return to fuel a continued economic rebound.”

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