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home : most recent : statewide implications August 17, 2017

7/27/2017 6:53:00 PM
Wabash Valley still lagging slightly in job numbers

Howard Greninger, Tribune-Star

While unemployment levels are among the lowest in Indiana since the mid-1990s, unemployment in the Wabash Valley remains higher than Indiana’s statewide rate, according to state data released this week. 

One Vigo County official says while the five-county Wabash Valley has higher unemployment rates, there are still job openings for those workers with specific job skills. And an Indiana State University economist says Indiana still has a high underemployment rate. 

Even so, the Wabash Valley, with the exception of Vermillion County, remains below the national unemployment rate, according to the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for June from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Indiana stands at 3 percent unemployment (not seasonally adjusted) in June, compared with 4.5 percent in June 2016. The national unemployment rate in June is 4.4 percent, down from 4.9 percent in June 2016.

Vigo County is listed with the 14th highest unemployment rate in the state at 3.7 percent.

Vermillion County ranks third highest in the state with an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, according to non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for June, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The county is listed third behind Fayette County, which also has a 4.4 percent unemployment.

Sullivan County, ranked 13th in the state, also had a 3.7 percent unemployment rate in June.

Unemployment is still lower this year than a year ago in the Wabash Valley.

Vigo County’s June 2016 unemployment rate was 5.8 percent. The county had 46,256 employed in June 2016 and had 47,165 employed as of June this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Vigo County had 2,853 unemployed in June 2016, which lowered to 1,791 in June this year.

The city of Terre Haute’s June unemployment rate is 4 percent, down from 6.4 percent in June 2016.

”We are pleased to see Indiana’s unemployment rate go lower this past month and stay at its lowest levels since the mid-1990s. We believe this is an indication of the state’s ongoing strong economy,” Steven J. Braun, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development said in a statement. 

Steve Witt, president of the Terre Haute Economic Development Corp., said many economists consider 3.5 percent unemployment to constitute full employment. “You will always have folks between jobs. It will never be zero,” Witt said.

”In terms of the unemployment rate, we are in very good stead. Are there folks who are unemployed and seeking jobs, absolutely. Are there folks who are under employed and would like a better opportunity, absolutely,” Witt said.

Witt said the Wabash Valley still has a tremendous demand for skilled workers — such as machinists, welders and electricians.

”There are shortages in regard to certain skill sets in the community. We have local employers who are advertising job openings. Advics Manufacturing has billboards advertising for employment, and Bemis has had television ads. And there are other local employers seeking employees,” Witt said.

”It speaks to the fact that one needs the skills that are demand in the work place,” Witt said. 

Ironically, a low unemployment rate can make it more difficult to attract new business prospects to show there is an available workforce, Witt said.

rdquo;It is a good problem to have ... but we really are in a unique situation where we have near full employment, particularly statewide, and the cost of capital is low for companies looking to expand. Our local area economy is stronger than it has been in at least the past decade,” Witt said.

However, the unemployment rate, including non-seasonally adjusted, is just one measurement of the workforce, said Donald Richards, professor of economics at Indiana State University.

Richards suggest underemployment shows a broader picture of the labor force.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics includes statistics on discouraged workers who are in the labor force, but want and are available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the past. In this measurement, Indiana’s labor under-utilization rate ranges from 7.7 percent to 4.4 percent, from the second quarter of 2016 through the first quarter of 2017.

”With unemployment low, you wonder why you do not see more rapid wage growth rate. That is because underemployment rates are probably higher,” Richards said. “I would say economists feel there is full employment when you begin to see upward pressure on prices, an increase in the Consumer Price Index, which we don’t see,” he said.

”The reason we don’t see upward pressure is because wages are not growing significantly. There are still a number of discouraged people not finding good-paying jobs,” Richards said, adding Indiana has more middle- to low -income jobs than higher paying jobs.

Indiana’s total labor force in June 2017 was more than 3.3 million, and the state’s 64.4 percent labor force participation rate remained above the national rate of 62.8 percent, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

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