Unemployment is trending downward in Howard County, though the area still has one of the highest rates in the state.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Howard had an unemployment rate of 5 percent in December last year, down from 5.7 in November. That’s still higher than the state’s unemployment rate, which is sitting at 4 percent. As of December, 1,864 people claimed unemployment, compared to a labor force of 37,394 people.
During the height of the COVID-19 shutdowns in April, unemployment reached a record high of 33.5 percent. The rate started to trend downward soon after, to 22.4 percent in May, then 16.6 in June, and then finally reaching single digits at 8.7 in July.
Dr. Alan Krabbenhoft, professor of economics at Indiana University Kokomo, said it was “pretty amazing” how quickly the economy recovered post-COVID-19 shutdowns.
“As of December, actually, we’re down near, for lack of a better term, full employment,” Krabbenhoft said. “And when you think that back in April we spiked as a state to 17 percent, and now we’re back down to 4 percent, which pre-pandemic had us anywhere between 3.2 to 3.6 (in late 2019), I mean we’re just a fraction away from that.”
Krabbenhoft cited the quick thinking of some of the largest employers at the time, such as FCA US, now Stellantis, which allowed workers to return quicker than expected. Krabbenhoft explained that those companies, by working with public health experts and their management, were able to figure out how to reopen for workers when many smaller companies were struggling to do the same.
He also cited the General Motors and Ventec partnership, which created over 1,000 jobs in May, for providing employment opportunities. That partnership since has ended.
“It was a nice little boost to the economy at an opportune time because here we had individuals who were still struggling to get back on their feet and maybe retail or the restaurant industries were not back as much as they wanted to be, and then here you had this organization that was looking to employ individuals,” said Krabbenhoft. “A good number of them had been laid off from the various auto industries, but they also brought in other individuals from different employers. So I think it was great timing with regards to that bump in the economy.”