The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 17, 2020 1:00 am

Jobless figures reflect a series of divides

Rachel Blakeman

The number of initial unemployment insurance claims since the state shut down non-essential economic activity in mid-March has been staggering. For the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's 11-county northeast Indiana region, 64,915 initial claims were made between March 15 and April 28. That's more than the total number of people who were working in Huntington, Steuben, Wells and Wabash counties in early March.

But what do we know about the people who lost their jobs in Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties? The state tracks some information about these claimants, so a picture starts to emerge.

The Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute requested Workforce Development data about initial unemployment claimants in this corner of the state during the shutdown. This data pull reflected 39,148 claimants for the period listed above, which does not match the nearly 65,000 initial claims. Claimants are the people and claims are what was filed, which makes for a small but meaningful difference since different data points are used for different programs and purposes.

The weekly claims track just that – the documents filed, not the people.

Using the mode – the largest number from each category – the statistically typical northeast Indiana claimant was a man between the ages of 20 and 24 living in Allen County who ended his education with his high school diploma, working for a manufacturer in a production job.

For those who study local labor market information, this worker sounds very familiar. On a regional level, manufacturing – as fickle as it may be – continues to be the largest employment sector by number of jobs. Hoosiers tend to finish their education with their high school diploma, although that is changing as more people start and complete college. Men outnumber women in the workforce, but not by much.

Of course, Allen County remains the population center of northeast Indiana. Taking a closer look at the initial claimant numbers, interesting patterns appear, especially as they relate to job types and employers. A quick reminder on the difference between occupation and industry: occupations are what employees do at work; industry is what the employer produces. Some occupations are nearly exclusive to an industry, such as hairstylists to salons, while bookkeepers are in most every industry.

People who make things – production occupations – comprised just over one in five recent claimants, which was the largest occupational category. The next largest was people working in office and administrative support positions at 11.5%. The third most common claimant job was management occupations at 10.4%. Note that both of those occupations are not so industry-specific, so those workers could come from restaurants, factories, dentist's offices or retail storefronts, to name a few.

Other occupations with more than 1,000 claimants were food preparation and serving positions at 7.7%; sales and related jobs at 7.6%; installation, maintenance and repair positions at 6.8%; personal care and service occupations at 6.2%; transportation and materials moving occupations at 5%; construction and extraction jobs at 4.4%; health care practitioners and technicians at 3.1%; and, lastly, health care support occupations at 2.7%.

Occupations that were largely safe with fewer than 100 claimants during this downturn were those working in military jobs; agriculture jobs; life, physical or social sciences jobs; and legal jobs.

Switching to industry, manufacturing led the claimant front at 35.1% (13,730 people). The second-largest category was actually no industry, listed at 14.6%. Accommodation and food service was the second-largest true industry at 9.4%. Retail came in with 9% of claimants. Health care and social services comprised 7.2%, and the oddly named category of administrative and support and waste management remediation services was at 6%.

Industries unaffected by coronavirus closures were mining and utilities, with no reported claims. Fewer than 10 claims in a week are not reported. Agriculture had 10 reported claims during this period. Finance and insurance, information, and public administration all had fewer than 200 reported claims.

Employees' education can influence whether people hold onto a job during a downturn, and this one is no exception. As noted in occupations and industries, those that tend to employ people with a bachelor's degree or higher were less likely to have job losses – think lawyers or those working for insurance companies or banks.

Almost 60% of unemployed workers had either not gone on to post-secondary education or not completed high school, according to the Workforce Development claimant data. Unfortunately, an accurate comparison between the claimant data and the standard educational attainment rates cannot be made because the U.S. Census Bureau tracks those ages 25 and older while Workforce Development's information includes younger workers, who by age alone are less likely to have attended college or completed an associate's or bachelor's degree. In other words, an accurate comparison between claimants and the general labor force sadly cannot be made with this data.

Continuing with age, unemployed workers were spread across the age continuum. Workers ages 20 to 24 had the largest number of claimants in the five-year age categories, constituting 13% of the people reflected in the data set. Prime working-age adults, ages 25 to 54, accounted for almost 63% of claimants. Breaking down that age group further, 34.4% of all claimants were 25 to 39 while 28.4% were 40 to 54. On the ends of the age bell curve, 15.8% of claimants were younger than 25 while 17.2% were 55 or older.

Looking at men and women, male claimants outnumbered female claimants but just barely with 51%.

Rachel Blakeman is director of the Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

By the numbers

Of the 39,148 unemployment insurance claimants in northeast Indiana between March 15 and April 28:


worked in manufacturing


worked at restaurants, hotels, or otherfood services and accommodations


worked in retail


worked in health care and social services


did not complete high school


ended their educationwith their high school diploma


had post-secondary education


had production occupations


worked in office or administrative support roles


worked in sales-related jobs


worked in a health care support occupation

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