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Regional joblessness jumps

7.9% in December; expert blames rise on fiscal cliff

Three months ago, metro Fort Wayne had a noteworthy drop in unemployment, retreating below 7 percent for the first time since October 2008.

Since then, joblessness has escalated. The reason? Two words: “fiscal” and “cliff.”

Anxiety among companies likely was a key factor in the region ending the year with 7.9 percent unemployment, up from 7.4 percent in November, said John Stafford, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW.

“It can be attributed to the strong caution among employers about the national economy,” he said Friday. “It’s obvious that the fiscal cliff may have been holding them back because they didn’t know what was going to happen. That played a part.”

The fiscal cliff refers to the spending cuts and tax increases that would have taken effect this month if government leaders hadn’t reached a budget deal. Now that they have, well, we’ll see.

Metro Fort Wayne is composed of Allen, Whitley and Wells counties. Last month, the area’s unemployment rate was higher than the national seasonally adjusted rate of 7.8 percent. However, Fort Wayne’s was lower than the state’s seasonally adjusted 8.2 percent rate, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Stafford, however, said there is some cause for concern, particularly since “we had some really nice gains in manufacturing, but that has somewhat leveled off.”

Still, Indiana led the nation in the rate of job growth in several sectors, including manufacturing; leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; and construction.

Since the low point of employment in July 2009, Indiana’s job expansion in the private sector has beat the national average – 6.8 percent, compared with 4.1 percent, state officials said in a statement Friday.

Regionally, Michigan had the highest unemployment at 8.9 percent in December.

Ohio had the lowest rate, at 6.7 percent. Joblessness in Illinois and Kentucky was 8.7 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively.

December figures for the four Ohio counties bordering northeast Indiana – Defiance, Paulding, Van Wert and Williams – have not been released.

At a glance

Top areas of job growth since July 2009 – the low point of employment in Indiana:
1. Manufacturing (62,700, 14.7 percent increase)
2. Professional and business services (35,300, 13.8 percent increase)
3. Trade, transportation and utilities (19,000, 3.5 percent increase)
4. Leisure and hospitality (17,300, 6.3 percent increase)
5. Private educational and health services (16,000, 3.8 percent increase)
Source: Indiana Department of Workforce Development

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