Unemployment rates in northeast Indiana ticked up slightly in May, driven primarily due to an increase in the size of the labor force outpacing new job gains.
In the six-county area including Allen, DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties, five of the six have more people employed now compared to a month ago — there’s just simply more people looking for work now than those who have found it.
All six counties saw slight upticks in unemployment, all under a half percentage point in May, according to figures released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development on Thursday.
Allen County’s rate rose to 4.5% from 4.3% in April; DeKalb County increased to 3.3% from 3%; LaGrange County increased from 2.2% to 2.6% — although that’s still good enough for second best of Indiana’s 92 counties; Noble County ticked up to 3.8% from 3.4%; Steuben County rose to 3.1% from 2.9%; and Whitley County increased to 3.3% from 2.9%.
Indiana’s seasonally adjusted rate was down, however, to 5.8% from 6.1% in April.
All of those rates are significantly better than their May 2020 comparison, when counties were still suffering major impacts of pandemic-related disruptions. All six local counties had unemployment rates over 10% in May 2020.
Increases in the unemployment were driven by larger growth in the labor force than jobs added. In May, the six counties had 3,065 more people employed compared to April.
Steuben County was the only county in the region with fewer employed in May compared to April and only by 30 workers.
Continued unemployment claims — filings from people already on unemployment — are currently at around 33,000, which is down from more than 60,000 at the start of the year.
With just about 33,000 continuing claims and just over 150,000 currently unemployed, only about 1-in-5 jobless people are currently collecting benefits.
Growth in the labor force could be impacted by a few factors this month.
First, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state would be canceling the extra $300 unemployment benefit effective June 19 in an effort to boost labor participation, a move that may have pushed some workers off unemployment and back into a job search.
Second, seasonal workers like students and new workers like recent graduates may have started actively seeking work but not yet found it, adding to the labor force but not the employed column.
Third, more people who dropped out of the labor force during the pandemic may simply be stepping back in. Some people left work during 2020 for home-life reasons like child care or schooling during the disruptions caused by the pandemic and have been sidelined for months.
Indiana’s labor force is increasing month-to-month but has not yet rebounded to pre-pandemic size.
At the end of 2019, there were approximately 3.384 million Hoosiers in the labor force. As of May, the state’s labor force sits at 3.364 million, although that’s an improvement of about 100,000 workers compared to the May 2020 downturn.
Workers who want a job should have little trouble finding one, as employers in numerous sectors have been complaining of a labor shortage and inability to fill open positions at their firms.
Help wanted signs are common around northeast Indiana and many companies have been pushed into raising wages and offering other perks like signing bonuses to employees who join their staff as a way to try to attract workers in the tight market.