The Fort Wayne metro area’s unemployment rate for January increased to 3.5%, up from 3.2% a year before, according to data released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The three-county metro region’s labor market shrank from 220,003 in January 2023 to 216,995 in January 2024.The number of employed workers also declined from 212,958 to 209,304 that month. The number of unemployed workers increased by almost 650 people.

On a regional level, Noble and Grant counties had unemployment rates above the state’s 3.8% unemployment rate at 4.1% and 4% respectively, while Wabash County tied with the state’s unemployment rate, which is not seasonally adjusted. Steuben County had the lowest unemployment rate in northeast Indiana at 3.1%, while all other northeast counties had unemployment rates below the state.

Statewide, four counties had unemployment rates above 5%: Lake at 5.7%, Howard at 5.6%, Vermillion at 5.2% and Starke at 5.1%. Daviess and Gibson counties were tied for the lowest unemployment rates in January at 2.8%.

“The increase in year-over-year unemployment rates can be properly interpreted as a softening job market, but I wouldn’t describe this as anything alarming since northeast Indiana counties remain comfortably below 5% unemployment,” said Rachel Blakeman, Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute director. “In general, the economy remains strong but it’s not as robust as it was a year ago, which is reflected in these numbers. It will be important to see if the labor market remains steady in the months to come or if it shows fluctuation up or down for both employed workers and unemployment rates.”

Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works, agreed with Blakeman’s assessment of a softening job market but said there continues to be ample opportunities for job seekers.

“While the number of online job postings by northeast Indiana employers has declined in the past year, there were still 11,453 online postings at the beginning of this month,” he said. “In Indiana, that was superseded only by the Indianapolis area, which had 24,653. The need for workers in our region remains strong and openings projections throughout the next decade are, at the moment, promising.”