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The Journal Gazette

Area jobless rate dips to 5.7%

Best showing in 6 years; state’s decline surprises prof

Full-time mom and part-time non-profit worker Margaret Williams of Fort Wayne believes the job picture is improving, especially when she doesn’t see her husband around the house.

“He’s in construction, so I know things are getting better when he’s working more,” said Williams, 27, as she fastened her 1-year-old daughter into a car seat outside Kroger Marketplace of Coventry on Monday. “The economy seems to be improving a little bit at least.”

Unemployment in metro Fort Wayne saw a drop in March as the jobless rate slid to 5.7 percent from 6.2 percent a month earlier, according to state figures released Monday.

That’s the best showing in nearly six years for metropolitan Fort Wayne, which comprises Allen, Wells and Whitley counties.

And the Indiana Department of Workforce Development said the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in March was the lowest since July 2008.

Cause for optimism?

“Our rate has dropped by 2 percentage points in one year, which is the third largest decline in the nation,” Scott B. Sanders, commissioner of Workforce Development, said in a statement.

“The Hoosier labor force has grown by more than 25,000 in the first quarter of 2014 alone, which is also remarkable,” he said.

Sanders also noted claims for state unemployment insurance in March were nearly 10,000 below March 2013 levels and are at their lowest since 2007. Initial claims for unemployment insurance are at their lowest levels since 2000.

Unemployment in February was 6.1 percent.

Michael Hicks, professor of economics professor at Ball State University, said he didn’t expect the state’s unemployment to continue its downward trend so quickly. A year ago, unemployment in metro Fort Wayne was about 8 percent with more than 16,100 individuals out of work. Last month, that number shrank to less than 12,000.

“Nobody would have called this,” said the director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “Manufacturing is growing more than you would expect. We’re reaping some of the business decisions to hire that were made back as far as 2009.”

Hicks said at least one cautionary note would be that many of the new jobs are in retail and hospitality.

“Those are industries that traditionally aren’t as well paying as some,” Hicks said.

The economy expert said Indiana has added 25,000 workers so far this year and at that pace would surpass his job growth projections.

“That would beat my forecast of just over 2 percent,” he said.

With the exception of Kentucky, neighboring states saw seasonally adjusted unemployment decline in March.

Ohio was 6.1 percent, down from 6.5 percent in February; Michigan was 7.5 percent, compared with 7.7 percent; Illinois was 8.4 percent in March, compared to 8.7 percent in February; while joblessness in Kentucky rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent.

Unemployment figures in the four Ohio counties bordering northeast Indiana will be released today.