INDIANAPOLIS — Unemployment in Northeast Indiana continues to move back toward prepandemic levels, said the final report of estimates for 2020, said monthly data released Jan. 27 by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

“We’re the lowest unemployment rate in our region,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said during his weekly news conference Jan. 27. “We’re moving in the right direction.”

The report issued Jan. 27 by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development showed many counties in Northeast Indiana in the 3% range — some, like Allen and Noble much higher and some lower — which are numbers that are moving back toward the full employment numbers experienced before the bottom fell out with unemployment in April 2020.

However, other labor data is showing that the work force isn’t back to prepandemic levels.

Perhaps it’s no more obvious than in Allen County where the labor force was 3,290 people less in December 2020 than was in December 2019. There were 2,379 more people employed in December 2019 than December 2020.

Allen County’s unemployment rate in December was 4.1%, which compares to 2.8% the previous December and 5.0% in November.

“When I saw the record high unemployment rates in April, I really thought it was unrealistic that we would get back to full employment by year’s end, but I’m glad I was wrong. December 2020 had close to 2,400 more unemployed workers than December 2019 but the overall recovery is remarkable,” Rachel Blakeman, director of the Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute, said. “In many ways we are living in two economies right now: one where aside from pandemic measures like mask wearing in public or working from home, financial life looks much like it did a year ago – or even better if invested in the stock market – and another where pre-pandemic economic struggles have been amplified by job loss or fewer hours at work combined with the need to care for children during e-learning. It’s too early to tell what a full recovery is going to look like as the full vaccine roll-out is many months away.”

Out in the rural counties the unemployment picture looks much better, but still, the robust labor force — the amount of people available for work — is lacking in numbers compared to the prepandemic days.

In December 2020, for example, LaGrange County only had 52 more people unemployed than the previous year, and the unemployment rates were 2.8% in December and 2.1% the year prior. However, LaGrange County’s labor force was 19,922 in December 2019 compared to 17,114 this past December, a difference of 2,808 people.

Elsewhere in the area, Whitley County is the only county to show improved labor compared to prepandemic numbers. The county had a labor force of 17,866, an increase of 176 over 2019. The number employed was up, too, at 17,346, an increase of 194 over 2019.The number employed was 520, an increase of 82 over December 2019 but a drop of 84 over November.

Whitley County, which is in the Fort Wayne Metropolitan Statistical Area, had an unemployment rate of 2.9% in December compared to 2.5% the year prior and 3.5% in November.

DeKalb, Noble and Steuben counties continue to have lower labor force numbers and fewer employed.

The next lowest unemployment rate was in Steuben County at 3.2% in December, compared to 2.3% in 2019 and 3.8% in November.

DeKalb County’s unemployment rate was 3.3% in December compared to 4.0% in November and 2.5% in December 2019.

Noble County’s unemployment rate was 3.9% in December, an improvement over 4.8% in November but down from 2.8% in December 2019.

“Despite the fact that many people and businesses in northeast Indiana are still suffering economically as a result of the pandemic, there were some bright notes in 2020 on the workforce front,” said Rick Farrant, director of communications at Northeast Indiana Works. “Employers took advantage of an expanded Employer Training Grant program and more than 2,000 workers were signed up for short-term training opportunities that will benefit both the employers and the employees. Moreover, employers in some industry sectors continued to hire during the pandemic in 2020 and that trend continues in the new year. A good deal of that hiring occurred in the manufacturing sector, even though some plants had layoffs, and in the healthcare sector. Clearly, northeast Indiana businesses and individuals have, to the best of their abilities, responded to the pandemic with courage and grit.”

Unemployment rates ranged from a low of 2.4% in Boone and Daviess counties to a high of 6.4% in Lake County.

LaGrange County was tied for seventh-lowest unemployment rate in the state and Whitley County was tied for 10th lowest.

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