Nearly 5,120 workers in Allen, Wells and Whitley counties were jobless last month, resulting in 2.4% unemployment, figures released Monday show.
But the October rate was less than half the 5.0% who couldn't find jobs the same month a year ago, Indiana Department of Workforce Development data indicates.
Allen, Wells and Whitley counties comprise the Fort Wayne metropolitan statistical area, in which 208,766 out of 213,883 workers were active in the labor force last month. That's up from 206,957 from October 2020's 217,862.
In September, the metro area had a 2.7% jobless rate. But the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics says the most accurate comparisons are the same month year over year because of seasonal events including changes in weather, harvests, major holidays and school schedules.
Monday's preliminary data release also showed Indiana's overall jobless rate at 2.5% for October compared with 5.1% a year ago. If seasonally adjusted, though, this year's October rate would be 3.3% compared with 5.6% a year ago in October.
Howard County, which includes Kokomo, had the highest rate at 4.2%. Union County, where the county seat of Liberty is an hour west of Cincinnati, tied with LaGrange County for the lowest – 1.5%. Adams County tied with three others for the second-lowest rate of 1.6%, state data shows.
The report shows dramatic improvement from when the COVID-19 pandemic began and sidelined many workers, particularly in last year's second quarter, when jobless rates reached double-digit percentages.
Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Community Research Institute, said we now have “shockingly low” unemployment.
“In other words,” she said, “the labor shortage is real, at least in terms of the people not currently working but actively looking for paid employment.”
Blakeman and Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works, also noted the effect of retirements on the employment market.
Estimates suggest some Fort Wayne-area industry sectors have 30% or more at or near retirement age, Farrant said.
“Employers are responding to the worker shortage with increased wages and enhanced benefits, such as earlier access to benefits, flexible schedules and sign-on bonuses,” he said through email.