Northeast Indiana unemployment claims

Unemployment claims in northeast Indiana spiked early but faded over the later weeks of the state’s stay-at-home order. About 4-in-10 job losses were in manufacturing, according to regional data.

FORT WAYNE — Northeast Indiana workers filed approximately 72,000 new unemployment claims during the state’s stay-at-home order, although new claims have greatly deflated since the early days.

Manufacturing was particularly pummeled in the shutdown, with about 4-in-10 claims coming from the sector in total, while accounting for more than half of jobless claims in three of four corner counties.

The Community Research Institute Director at Purdue Fort Wayne released an unemployment snapshot for the period between the weekend ending March 21, just before Indiana’s stay-at-home order went into effect on March 25, and the week ending May 2, the day after the order expired.

In total 71,805 initial unemployment claims were made in the Indiana Department of Workforce Development’s 11-county northeast Indiana region consisting of Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties, known as Economic Growth Region 3.

That was more than six times higher than the first seven weeks of 2008 as the Great Recession began to take hold, when 11,218 initial unemployment claims were made.

Unlike the Great Recession, however, when unemployment ramped up over months and lingered at high levels for years, the coronavirus-impact in jobless claims is expected to be much shorter-term, although lingering unemployment may continue from firms battered by weeks of shutdown.

Northeast Indiana had the second most claims of any of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development regions during the same seven-week period in 2020, trailing only Marion County’s EGR 12 with 79,206 total initial claims.

During the time reflecting Gov. Eric Holcomb’s Hunker Down Hoosiers executive order, 35,459 initial claims were made in Allen County, according to calculations by the Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute using DWD data.

Noble County had the second highest number of claims at 6,376, followed by LaGrange County in third at 4,597. DeKalb County residents filed 4,310 claims and Steuben County logged 3,500 claims.

Wabash County had the smallest at 1,800.

Workers from manufacturing made the most initial claims at 28,491 or 39.7% of the total. Noble, DeKalb, LaGrange, and Adams counties all had at least 50% of their initial claims from manufacturing.

Claims from accommodation and food services was second at 8,139 or 11.3% of initial claims in EGR 3; unclassified industry claims were third at 7,767 or 10.8%.

Going forward, tracking “continued” claims will be more information than initial claims, as the initial spate of job losses has tamped down.

Continued claims track those who have not returned to the work but remain eligible for unemployment insurance payments. The most recent continued claims data is from the week ending April 25 so no data has been released yet to indicate how people are returning to work as part of the Back on Track plan.

Additionally, workers who have been called back to work but elect to not to return due to concern about exposure to the coronavirus may not be eligible for unemployment insurance and thus drop off the rolls even though they may be interested in working but do not presently have a job.

“This seven-week period gave us a nearly real-time look at how employers made immediate cuts to respond to market conditions,” said Rachel Blakeman, CRI director. “Clearly employers’ response to the shutdown order was swift and harsh but it trailed off as measured by initial unemployment claims. Now that the state has authorized reopening of entire industries, continued unemployment claims will be key in understanding the post-closure economy in the Fort Wayne area as it relates to employment. While I hope that layoffs are short lived, only time will tell us how this plays out.”

While firms could potentially return all their workers to the job, whether they have immediately or not is yet to be determined. Companies may bring back workers in waves or some not at all, meaning unemployment may persist at higher levels than pre-coronavirus.

One potential upside is that many employers were struggling to find workers before the pandemic started, so firms may downsize simply by not seeking those additional workers for unfilled positions.

Or, if workplaces resume at a similar level, displaced workers from furloughs that turned into permanent layoffs may be able to transition into jobs with other firms still in need of manpower.

Northeast Indiana Works is preparing for the new economic and employment conditions.

“For a number of years before the pandemic emerged, we encouraged people to skill up to meet the demands of the 21st century workforce and in doing so achieving some measure of job security,” said Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works. “There’s no reason why people now, albeit a little behind the curve, shouldn’t explore high-wage, in demand jobs and seek out the kind of training and education that will allow them to land those jobs. They can learn about those opportunities by calling the WorkOne Northeast career centers or take a look at opportunities offered through the state’s Next Level Jobs program.

“It would be wise to employ a little sleuthing when considering entering a career or pursuing a career change,” Farrant said. “That is, look around you and pay attention to workforce trends, especially given the new reality we’re about to enter. Some industries may blossom, some may retract. Some careers that held only moderate promise before the pandemic may now become essential moving forward. Some completely new jobs may sprout up.”

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