Many human resources teams recruiting during the largest job fair held each year at Purdue University Fort Wayne said less competition for talent would make that work easier.
However, they said they were in the dark as to when the region’s labor market might loosen, what factors would contribute to that, or what the next part of the economic cycle would be like for northeast Indiana’s employers and workforce.
The nation’s unemployment rate of 4% is historically low, and the state’s is lower still, at 3.6%, according to the latest data from Indiana Workforce Development. Only one of the counties in northeast Indiana had a rate higher than the state’s.
“Right now, it’s crazy. Everybody wants people or needs people,” said Morgan Booker, an employee relations manager for Columbia City-based Ultra-Electronics, Undersea Sensor Systems Inc.
USSI is not affected directly by recessions because “our main item is our sonobuoy, which is a government-purchased product,” she said. “We still have to be able to secure our waters and our oceans and make sure we’re still safe, so they still have to be purchased even when the economy’s bad.”
For the region’s private-sector employers who typically see an impact during a recession, the big questions include “When will it happen?” and “What will it be like?”
Economic forecasters detected what many considered a classic Treasury market signal of a coming recession Aug. 14, when yields on 10-year notes fell below yields on two-year notes.
This occurred a couple of weeks after the Federal Reserve moved to lower the federal funds rate to between 2% and 2.5% to encourage spending, which injects money into the economy.
Stock prices fell as Wall Street considered the two big indicators that the economy was softening, then started recovering on favorable economic news.
A recession is possible because “the economy is clearly slowing,” said Michael Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. “It’s just a historical fact over the past six months.
“It’s also possible that we will dodge a recession and stick in a slow growth period,” he said. “I don’t think it’s knowable right now.”
The outlook is less clear than at previous times in history because of unusual economic stimulus in place and because, if the economy went into one, it would be a policy-induced recession resulting from the trade war, Hicks said.
The trade war has been hurting the nation’s manufacturing and logistics sectors, “and it appears to be spreading to other sectors as well,” he said. “Some sectors are insulated, such as health care.”
In Indiana, “since we’re the most manufacturing-intensive state in the union, we tend to be at a heightened risk for job losses and the fiscal effects of a downturn,” Hicks said.
“In the northeast part of the state, particularly in Elkhart, Goshen and Fort Wayne, they’re likely to face slowing demand for their manufactured goods, and it may begin with the idling of a third shift or cutbacks at factories. I think that’s already apparent in many places,” he said. “We’re already seeing them in the RV industry and the supply chain.”
However, the trade war’s impact could be offset by monetary policy, and also by fiscal stimulus the federal government put in place while the economy was in a period of recovery, Hicks said.
The federal government is running an enormous budget deficit for a recovery period, propping up the nation’s economic growth rate heavily with spending. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 also continues to have an impact, he said.
The Federal Reserve also will be doing everything it can to loosen direct borrowing costs in order to encourage spending, which could cause some potential buyers who recently postponed a purchase to reconsider delaying it, he said.
If a recession does come, Hicks believes it will not be like the Great Recession, which started in December 2007 and ended in July 2009.
“The one in everyone’s mind was a consequence of multiple problems involving the financial system — too many bad loans, too many bad banks. All those together generated a very large business cycle,” he said. “We don’t appear to have many of the problems that accompanied that downturn.”
During the past 40 years, there has been a great moderation with business cycles that are less pronounced coming less frequently, he said.
During the next recession, the nation’s unemployment rate “will rise substantially, but not like it did in 2007-2009,” Hicks said.
Even a more modest recession can bring about big changes in industry sectors, and in Indiana, “we can expect many manufacturing jobs created in the wake of the Great Recession to go away permanently,” he said.
Many states have higher shares of college graduates in their workforce, and they will be better positioned to weather a recession than Indiana does as a result, Hicks said.
“The good news for Indiana is we have a gargantuan rainy day fund,” he said.
Indiana ended the budget year with a surplus of $410 million.