tipton transmission

WORK — Workstations at FCA’s Tipton Transmission Plant are marked with yellow boxes to help employees maintain proper social distancing.

Data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development indicated Howard County’s unemployment rate reached the highest level in the state in April.

That data, released last week, showed that the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Howard County during the month of April reached 34.1 percent, which largely was driven by the economic shutdown created by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the state estimates, 14,035 were unemployed during the month of April.

“I think it’s going to be a long time before we ever see unemployment numbers like what we had historically seen just before this hit, sub 4 percent,” said Alan Krabbenhoft, the dean of the School of Business at IU Kokomo. “Those numbers are almost, not unheard of, but those are the numbers you experience after your economy has been hitting on all cycles for a long period of time. Really this recession we are in is the first recession we have experienced since the great recession. We have had 10 years to basically get this locomotive running. Now it’s going to take a huge hit, and those numbers are going to look astronomical.”

Higher initial unemployment claims began to be recorded in the week ending on March 21. That week, the same that Howard County closed non-essential businesses in response to the pandemic, 1,512 initial unemployment claims were filed. The following week, such claims rose to 4,579 in Howard County after FCA US closed its local plants on March 18.

Following those weeks, in the week ending April 4, 1,612 initial claims were filed, followed by 1,482 in the week ending April 11. The next week, 1,015 initial unemployment claims were filed, with the rate dropping to 706 the week ending on April 25.

The unemployment rate even topped those experienced during the Great Recession, which peaked at 20.2 percent in 2009.

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Prior to April, the county’s unemployment rate for March was 4.1 percent, and in February it was 3.8 percent.

According to Krabbenhoft, Howard County’s unemployment rate skyrocketed after local manufacturers temporarily closed in response to the pandemic. With many of those employers reopening recently, he anticipated the number of continued claims to begin dropping in coming unemployment reports by the state.

“They’re going to start seeing now in the coming weeks more considerable drops in the initial claims for unemployment,” said Krabbenhoft. “Do I think they’re going to be down in the 40s, 50s, and 60s numbers like they were in January, February, and March? No, they’re still going to be in the hundreds I think. There will still be people coming off of employment situations where employers thought they could hang on, but they couldn’t.”

But, he said, it may take some time before the area begins to see the historically-low unemployment rates that were being logged prior to the pandemic.

“Some people have said it will take us 10 years. I don’t think it will take us 10 years to get there because I think the economy has a lot of infrastructure that is ready to employ a lot these individuals, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it took say three, four, five years to report those low numbers,” said Krabbenhoft.

The IUK dean also feared the impact of a potential second surge of COVID-19 and said if that were to occur “all bets are off.”