The Fort Wayne metro area’s total workforce in April decreased by more than 1,000 workers and the number of people working went down by almost 2,200 people compared to the year before, according to data released today by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The three-county region of Allen, Wells and Whitley counties went from 221,293 total workers in April 2023 to 220,271 last month. For employed workers, it shifted from 215,719 a year earlier compared to 213,546 in April. The unemployment rate also shifted up from 2.5% to 3.1% with 6,725 unemployed workers.

Looking across northeast Indiana, Grant and Noble counties had unemployment rates above the state’s 3.4% unemployment rate, with 3.7% and 3.5% respectively, which is not seasonally adjusted. Wells and Whitley counties had the lowest unemployment rate at 2.8%. Howard County had the highest unemployment rate statewide at 6.1% and was the only county above 5%. Daviess, Dubois and Gibson counties were tied at 2.5% for the lowest unemployment rate in the state.

While the number of unemployed workers jumped year-over-year, the number of first-time and continued unemployment insurance claimants in Allen County declined in the same time frame, indicating people may have left paid employment. The departure could be temporary as they wait to start their job search again or more enduring if not permanent as they retire or as a result of a disability or injury, or for caregiving responsibilities.

“Monthly unemployment data can be a bit puzzling at times because they simply tell us what happened and not why,” said Rachel Blakeman, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Community Research Institute. “The increase in the unemployment rate and unemployed workers coupled with a shrinking labor force yet no corresponding bump in unemployment insurance claims tells me that the market is softening compared to a year ago but it may not be due to layoffs or closures. I would caution people from getting too worked up over this increase as an economic predictor. For years, northeast Indiana hovered around 2% unemployment, which frankly is unsustainable. While I’m rarely going to celebrate unemployment increasing, I am also not concerned about April numbers as this still indicates a healthy job market for workers overall. Individual stories may be different if their skills do not match well with available jobs, but on a population level, this is not alarming.”

While some may think a repeat of the Great Recession is on the horizon, that simply does not look likely.

“There’s no question the job market has cooled off a bit, but it does not appear to be in danger of collapsing,” said Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works. “If anything, what we likely are seeing is a normalization of the job market, precipitated by a number of factors, including baby boomer retirements. Geopolitical forces and the growing emergence of AI will impact the labor market in the foreseeable future – to what extent is anybody’s guess. Nevertheless, there will still be jobs for those following workforce trends and adapting, especially those willing to learn and upskill.”