Unemployment rates fluctuate across Indiana 

Fluctuating unemployment rates across Indiana.

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By Olivia Covington

The unemployment rate in Indiana is on its way down but it remains in double-digits across parts of Indiana.

Nine of Indiana's 92 counties have an unemployment rate of 10 percent or higher, compared to the statewide rate of 8.2, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Meanwhile, just two have rates below 6 percent.

"A lot of that (variation) has to do with the nature of the industries that are located in those particular counties," said Timothy Slaper, director of economic analysis at the Indiana Business Research Center.

In May, Fountain County had the highest rate of unemployment at 12 percent. Hamilton County's rate of 5.6 percent was the lowest in the state.

The presence of "high-end" professional services, such as attorneys, engineers and health care, is the reason Hamilton County had such a low unemployment rate, said Mike Hicks, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

"We have a relatively prosperous county in terms of (residents) who work in downtown Indy - attorneys, engineers, consultants, bankers - so they weren't hit as hard" in the recession, Slaper said of Hamilton County. "As a result they have a higher-income county, and they probably also have fewer restaurants or retail stores laying folks off."

However, counties where manufacturing is the main industry had higher rates of unemployment. Slaper said the manufacturing industry lost many jobs during the recession, which can account for the high unemployment rates in areas that rely on those industries.

In particular, Slaper said Lake County - which is near 10 percent - is suffering from higher unemployment because there is little demand for the domestic steel that is produced in the county. Hicks said Blackford County - at 9.4 percent - is also still suffering from a loss of jobs in the manufacturing industry.

The report shows many counties in the western part of the state, including Fountain, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo, had the highest rates of unemployment in May. However, Hicks said this isn't always the case.

"East Central Indiana tends to be worse than the rest of the state, and that has tended to be, in part, because the area has been the biggest loser of manufacturing employment," Hicks said.

Hicks also said education contributes to unemployment rates in individual counties. In Fountain County, where unemployment rates are highest, only 17 percent of residents have some college education. Most counties have at least 25 percent of residents with some college education.

Hicks and Slaper agreed the manner in which unemployment data was collected can also account for the wide range of unemployment rates.

"The sampling that's used to measure the county unemployment rate involves very few people," Hicks said.

Hicks said the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys businesses and individual households to gather employment data.

Businesses are called to determine the number of jobs available. Hicks said the results from business surveys are fairly accurate.

Households are called to determine the number of people who are actually working, data Hicks said isn't very accurate until it is adjusted after several months.

Hicks said he thinks the reason the data obtained by calling individuals households isn't accurate is because too few people are called.

"There are only 60,000 or so respondents to the household survey each month. The United States has about 3,000 counties, so they may only be asking 20 people in a county," Hicks said.

"They call folks up and ask them, 'Are you employed? Are you looking for employment?', and those kind of questions and answers contribute to 'Yeah, I'm out of work and I'm not looking anymore'," Slaper said. "Those are not necessarily the numbers to look at in terms of employment."

Marion County had an 8.4 percent unemployment rate, which is slightly higher than the state average.

"A lot of the folks who work in Indy, or Marion County, actually wind up living in Hamilton or Boone County or some of the other surrounding counties, and those folks who are living in Marion County may be in the poorer neighborhoods when they do their surveying of households," Slaper said.

The county unemployment report was released June 19.

Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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