The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 11, 2021 1:00 am

Region saw job loss in sector

Manufacturing hit hard in 3rd quarter

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Northeast Indiana's manufacturing sector suffered a higher percentage of job losses during the third quarter than the state or nation, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The economy slowly reopened in the third quarter – July, August and September – after the coronavirus pandemic prompted an almost total shutdown in April, May and June. 

The region's manufacturers employed 7,016 – or 8.7% – fewer workers in July 2020 than in July 2019. Nationwide, factory employment declined by 6.9% when comparing the same months. Indiana's largest decline in manufacturing employment compared to the prior year was 6.2% in August.

The manufacturing sector's vitality is an important barometer for the Hoosier State's economic health. Indiana ranks No. 1 nationally for the state whose economy relies most heavily on the sector, and northeast Indiana leads the state in manufacturing jobs as a percentage of employment.

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

“The third-quarter numbers for wages and jobs show an improvement from the second quarter's stay-at-home orders last year. However, they still trail the same time frame from a year before, showing how economic hesitation of employers and consumers alike lasted beyond the governor's directives,” she said in a statement.

“In other words,” she added, “either the virus itself or generalized economic uncertainties spooked people from re-engaging with the economy last summer.”

The statistics reflect what was happening almost a year ago, Blakeman noted in a news release. As a result, current conditions might be better for both workers and employers.

BLS data also showed Allen County's average wage continued to trail the state and national averages during the third quarter.

The county's year-over-year average wage growth of 5.9% also lagged the national pace of 7.8% – but outpaced the state rate of 5.4%.

Boosting the region's wages has been a priority for economic development officials, including at the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, over the last several years.

Economic data generally improved – locally and nationwide – as 2020 continued and the near-total shutdown was farther in the rearview mirror. Blakeman expects to see even stronger numbers when fourth-quarter data are reported.

Rick Farrant, Northeast Indiana Works' communications director, also saw reason for “cautious optimism that we are on the cusp of emerging from the virus-related economic upheaval.”

“Employers are taking advantage of training programs for their workers, hiring has ramped up significantly, and economic and workforce developers are pushing forward with various initiatives designed to enhance prosperity,” he said in a statement. 

The Community Research Institute found Indiana's Economic Growth Region 3 had 18,243 fewer jobs – or a 5.7% decrease – in July 2020 when compared to July 2019. The 11-county region comprises Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties.

The region's workforce increased slightly in August and September but still trailed 2019 levels for the same months. Private-sector, third-quarter job losses weren't evenly distributed across the region, when measured by percentages.

LaGrange lost 1.2% of its workforce in July 2020 as compared to July 2019; Noble lost 11.9%. BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data measure jobs and wages in the counties where the jobs exist, not where the worker lives.

At a glance

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics average weekly wages for third quarter of 2020:

Allen County: $929

Indiana: $963

U.S.: $1,170

Source: Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute

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