Expert explains why NE Indiana unemployment going down, but labor force not going up

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Northeast Indiana job market experts are sharing interesting findings as we end this year of pandemic. Though the unemployment rate is going down, the labor force is not getting stronger.

The unemployment rates across the region’s counties are back to where they should be, at or below 5 percent, but the labor force, those who are working or seeking work, is acting strange.

“What we’re seeing is people leaving the labor force,” said Purdue Fort Wayne’s Director of the Community Research Institute Rachel Blakeman. “They are no longer working or looking for work.”

From October to November 2020, Allen County’s number of unemployed dropped from 10,134 to 9,215, about a 1,000 people. But instead of the labor force going up by that 1,000 people, it dropped by about 2,500 people, going from 188,222 to 185,729.

Blakeman said some people who were laid off because of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t satisfied with the jobs on the market.

“If you were making $14, $15, $16, $17 an hour and the jobs you’re seeing are $9, $10, $11 an hour, You may say, ‘you know what, I’m just going to sit this one out for a few months and hopefully I can find that $14 or $15 dollar an hour job again,'” she explained.

These unsatisfied individuals may depend on unemployment or the income of their spouse to make it through this rough patch.

Blakeman explains others are retiring early or choosing to babysit their kids.

“You may have just said the kids school schedule isn’t quite working out like I wanted it to, wouldn’t it be easier for me to just stay home so I can always make sure my 6th grader is logging into zoom everyday,” she said.

She hopes 2021 will bring more people back to work, given the pandemic comes to an end.

“We want to see that that labor force has gotten bigger and that the number of people unemployed get smaller,” she concluded. “We want to see more people working. That’s a good choice for our community. When people work, they make money, they pay taxes, they engage in their community. So having workers is a sign of strength and growth.”

For more recent unemployment and labor force numbers across Northeast Indiana, look at the table below.

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