Unemployment across northeast Indiana continued its decline yet is still running well beyond where it was a year ago, before the coronavirus outbreak that struck in March.

Indiana’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.2% for September and the national rate was 7.9%.

Locally, unemployment rates declined between September and August but still remain well above the benchmark of September 2019 when northeast Indiana was considered at full employment. Also, labor force numbers are declining for the most part because some people have stopped looking for work.

“The monthly labor force numbers are a dynamic statistic, with change to be expected month over month,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute. “September’s numbers reflect six months into the pandemic and the associated economic consequences. Most of the northeast counties have returned to full employment as measured by the unemployment rate being below 5%, but that may provide a false narrative. Some of this decline has been achieved through people who left the workforce in September, instead of more people working.”

The one county that comes close to a return to pre-pandemic numbers was LaGrange, where unemployment declined to 3.3% from 3.9% in August. The September rate was still one percentage point higher than a year ago when the rate was 2.3%.

The number of people employed is still running well beyond a year ago. In LaGrange, there were 640 people unemployed this September and 448 in September 2019, a 30% difference.

In Steuben County, unemployment declined to 4.1% in September from 4.6% in August. The rate was 2.2% in September 2019. There were 843 people unemployed this September compared to 460 a year ago, a difference of 45%.

DeKalb County had the next lowest rate in the four-county area at 4.6% compared to 5.2% in August and 2.4% a year ago. DeKalb County had 1,017 people unemployed in September compared to 536 a year ago, a difference of 47%.

Noble County improved to 4.9% unemployed in September from 5.7% in August. A year ago the rate was 2.6%, the high for the area. There were 1,125 people unemployed in Noble County in September versus 611 a year ago, a difference of 46%.

Whitley County had an unemployment rate of 4.2% in September compared to 4.7% in August and 2.4% a year ago. There were 722 people unemployed in September and 428 a year ago, a difference of 41%.

Allen County had an unemployment rate of 6.0% in September compared to 6.8% in August. There were 11,134 people unemployed and a year ago that number stood at 4,995. Unemployment was 55% greater last month than a year ago.

“On the surface, the latest unemployment numbers appear promising and, the labor force dip notwithstanding, suggest improvement in the employment status for some people,” said Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works. “Another promising sign is that employers across many industries have stepped up hiring and training, and are partnering with our WorkOne Northeast career centers in promoting those opportunities. But there are so many evolving factors at play during this lingering pandemic that it would be premature, I think, to wholeheartedly celebrate the unemployment numbers.”

The monthly unemployment rate is a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicator that reflects the number of unemployed people seeking employment within the prior four weeks as a percentage of the labor force.

With the exception of Steuben County, all counties cited above experienced declines in the labor force. Steuben County saw a minute increase of 33 people.

“Unfortunately, the state’s data only tell us what is happening, not why, so we aren’t sure if these workers have left the workforce for an extended period, such as supervising children who are in online school, or those who stopped looking for work temporarily but intend to find a job when the economy improves,” Blakeman said.

Indiana’s labor force had a net decrease of 19,691 over the previous month. This was a result of a decrease of 6,289 unemployed residents and a decrease of 13,402 employed residents. Indiana’s total labor force, which includes both Hoosiers employed and those seeking employment, stands at 3.33 million, and the state’s 63.0% labor force participation rate remains above the national rate of 61.4%.

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