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Unemployment in the Fort Wayne metro area was 3.7% in March, up from 3.3% in the same month a year even though the labor force shrank, figures released Monday show, the Journal Gazette reported.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development data indicates 8,185 people were without jobs in a labor force that numbered 219,560 in March.

In the same month last year, just over 7,340 people were without jobs when the labor force numbered 221,688.

The Fort Wayne metro area includes Allen, Wells and Whitley counties.

In February this year, unemployment for the metro area was 3.9%, with 218,712 people in the workforce and nearly 8,435 without jobs, state figures show.

Comparing the same month year over year provides a better snapshot, labor officials say, due to seasonal hiring fluctuations.

“We are seeing a pattern of increased unemployment rates in 2024 compared to 2023,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of the Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute.

Blakeman noted that labor market data is considered a “lagging economic indicator” because it is based on what has already occurred rather than a forecast. Still, she said in a statement, it is “safe to say the labor market this year is softening.”

One sign is the consistent pattern of counties with jobless rates exceeding 5%, although that is not the case in northeast Indiana.

“For so many years we were seeing unemployment rates between 2% and 3%, so this increase feels a bit uncomfortable to labor-market observers,” Blakeman said, “but I’m not yet concerned for this corner of the state overall.”

Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works, said the increase in unemployment may give employers more options to fill positions.

But, Farrant said, “it also may be that some employers are hesitant to fill positions as the economy softens. Some may have also figured out how to get by with less in their workforces.”

Indiana’s unemployment rate was 4.1% last month, or 3.5% when seasonally adjusted. That compares with 3.6% in March last year, or 3.2% when adjusted.

Lake County had the state’s highest unemployment rate – 6%. It was one of eight counties with at least 5% unemployment.

Gibson County had the lowest unemployment among the state’s 92 counties, at 3%.

Nationally, the jobless rate was 3.9% in March, or 3.8% when seasonally adjusted. That compares with 3.6% in the same month a year ago, or 3.5% adjusted.