Record-setting April figures released last week by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development give the clearest picture of unemployment in the southcentral region of the state caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During April the state’s average seasonally adjusted unemployment was 16.9% while Jackson County’s unemployment was 22.3% and Scott County had the highest in the area at 24.2%. The counties surrounding our area show only slight difference: Bartholomew, 18.4%; Brown, 16.2%; Monroe, 10.1%; Lawrence, 17.6%; Washington, 19.1%; Clark, 18%; Jefferson, 21.9%; Jennings, 23.3%.
Indiana’s unemployment rate jumped from 3.2% in March to a record 16.9% in April as the state’s jobs in the hospitality, manufacturing and education and health sectors disappeared almost overnight. A years ago, the April 2019 unemployment rate was 2.9% when the state’s and the nation’s economy was strong. The state’s labor force in April was 3.23 million, down from 3.27 million in March.
The data, released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, reflect numbers of Hoosiers who filed for unemployment after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s orders for all but essential businesses to close as a way of slowing the spread of the potentially fatal virus, which so far has killed nearly 1,900 Hoosiers and infected over 32,000.
“To put the 22.3% unemployment rate in context, Jackson County had a 2.1% unemployment rate in December, 2019, and the first 3 months of 2020 saw the county with rates of 2.8%, 2.5% and 2.6%. The economy was great, but obviously the April rate demonstrates the tremendous toll COVID-19 has had on our economy,” said Jackson County Industrial Development Corporation executive director Jim Plump.
“Also troubling is that at the end of April, the percentage of manufacturing-only unemployment claims represented 69% of the total claims,” he added. “Our area is dependent on manufacturing.”
That said, however, also remember that the state’s April percentages are several weeks old, and things already are changing, Plump added
With the economy at a near standstill and Americans told to stay home except for essential travel for work and important errands, businesses furloughed workers in record numbers.
JCIDC has been hosting twice-weekly conference calls with industrial leaders in Jackson County since late March.
“While we were aware that companies were furloughing workers throughout April and early May, many of those same companies are now starting to operate and recalling those same workers,” Plump said. “In fact, we saw a slight decrease in the number of unemployment claims for the week ending May 9.”
The county economic development leader said the April numbers are only a snapshot of a date in time.
“I believe we won’t have a true sense of actual unemployment for a couple of months, which means it could be August before the numbers are accurate and reflect a true picture of what has happened as a result of the coronavirus,” said Plump
Indiana is scheduled to be “back on track” by having all capacity restrictions lifted by July 4. The state went to Phase 3 on May 22 and is scheduled to go to Phase 4 on June 14, according to backontrack.in.gov/2348.htm. Changes can and have occurred to the schedule.
Looking at a possible upside to the coronavirus caused unemployment rate, Plump said, “Over the past several years, Jackson County has lost several opportunities to attract new companies to our area because of low unemployment and the lack of workers. But moving forward we will again aggressively be marketing our area to those companies looking to expand into the Midwest.”
We reached out to Scott County officials for comment but received no response before dedline.