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INDIANAPOLIS — May unemployment rates in northeast Indiana dropped significantly in May, indicating that many residents returned to work as the economy reopened after the COVID-19 statewide shutdown led to many furloughs and layoffs.

Unemployment shot up as high as 28.5% in April in LaGrange County and 28.1% in Noble County, but those numbers decreased by 50% or more in the four counties that make up the extreme northeast corner of Indiana.

Elsewhere in northeast Indiana, Whitley County declined to 11.1% in May from 17.2% in April. Allen County dropped to 14.0% in May from its high of 19.8% in April.

April was the first month to show the impact of government-ordered shutdowns across the country to try to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the local decline in the unemployment rate is a bit of a relief, it doesn’t tell us much about the long-term trajectory of the recovery,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute. “If consumer spending picks up locally and nationally, which will require a sustained level of confidence in the economy and by proxy public health, we should continue to see reduced unemployment rates but we have a long way to go before we get back to full employment. We can’t assume similar drops every month going forward.”

“Many workers have been called back and employers across many industries are hiring,” said Rick Farrant, communications director for Northeast Indiana Works. “That provides a level of cautious optimism, although lingering double-digit or near-double-digit unemployment at the county levels shows we aren’t out of the woods yet. The two big unknowns are what will happen to supply chains nationally and how pervasive COVID-19 will be moving forward. Unfavorable trends in either case could stall a continuing recovery.”

LaGrange went from the high in the four-county area to the low in May, dropping to 10.2%.

Noble County didn’t decline as much, lowering to 16.2% in May. It had the highest rate in the 11-county Economic Growth Region 3, seven counties (Adams, Grant, LaGrange, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley) and 8th highest statewide.

Steuben County was second lowest in the area, dropping to 11.8% in May from 19.6% in April. Steuben County was the only one in the four-county area that didn’t top 20% in April.

DeKalb County went from 21.3% in April to 14.2% in May.

Regionally, Adams County had the lowest rate at 9.8%, putting it 69th in the state. In April, it was at 20.2%.

Other counties in Business Weekly’s reading area:

Elkhart: 11.9% in May, down from 28.6% in April, a 58% drop

Huntington: 13.6% from 19.6%, a nearly 31% decline

Kosciusko: 8.8%, from 18.5%, a 52% fall

Wabash: 10.2%, from 16.5%, a 38% change

Wells: 10.4%, from 16.3%, a 36% reduction

The northeast corner’s numbers come in stark contrast to what had been considered full employment throughout the area a year ago. Unemployment in May 2019 in all four extreme northeast Indiana counties was less than 3% and Steuben County was the lowest at 2.4%.

Indiana’s unemployment rate decreased to 12.3% in May, the third-largest decrease in the country for the month.

Indiana remains middle-of-the-pack for its overall rate, but it’s recovering at a high rate.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics national labor force report released June 19, Indiana’s rate decreased from 17.5% in April to 12.3% in May.

The 12.3% is slightly lower than the national average of 13.3%, down from 14.7% in April.

Farrant said there were many options available for people seeking work.

People in northeast Indiana still out of work or facing an uncertain future with a one-time employer can assess their options by visiting the various job boards (including indianacareerconnect.com), the employment opportunities listing at neinworks.org and the WorkOneNortheast Facebook page, or they may schedule an appointment with the nearest WorkOne Northeast career center.

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