The Journal Gazette
Friday, April 03, 2020 1:00 am

Data show sectors hit hardest by layoffs

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Almost 47% of the recent first-time unemployment insurance claims from the Fort Wayne area – 12,754 – involve the manufacturing sector, according to data released Thursday.

The Fort Wayne-area numbers for the past two weeks also show 15.5%, or 4,231 claimants, were from accommodation and food services. 

The new data show 27,224 area workers had first-time claims for the weeks ending March 21 and 28.

The look at the impact by industry sector came the same day that the U.S. Department of Labor announced more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week. That doubled the record high set just one week earlier as the nation and world battle the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands, including dozens in Indiana.

Many businesses have reduced operations or at least temporarily shut down as public health officials plead for social distancing. The practice of keeping 6 feet apart from others is meant to slow the number of COVID-19 respiratory illnesses brought on by the virus, sometimes unknowingly because carriers might not immediately show symptoms.

The Community Research Institute at Purdue University Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana Works provided the local look at the business sectors affected with jobless claims, based on numbers from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Claims from Adams, Allen, DeKalb, Grant, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wabash, Wells and Whitley counties are included.

The state records the data based on where people live, not the county where they work.

All but Allen and Huntington counties had more than half of their initial claims come from manufacturing in the week ending March 28, the Community Research Institute and Northeast Indiana Works said. Automakers, including GM's Allen County truck plant, have temporarily suspended normal operations. A GM plant in Kokomo, however, is making ventilators to help meet COVID-19 needs.

LaGrange County had 80.1% of its first-time claims last week in manufacturing while Noble County had 77.9%.

Almost 2,240 claimants, or 8.2%, were from health care and social services during the previous weeks.

“Hospitals are still running full tilt,” a news release said, “but this category also captures dentists' offices, doctors' offices, childcare centers, youth centers, and other health care providers like physical therapists, chiropractors and optometrists.”

The data also show:

• 5.7% (1,539 claimants) come from retail trade (department and specialty stores and other storefront retailers)

• 4.6% (1,252 claimants) come from other services (this reflects personal services like hair salons and barbershops, funeral homes, dry cleaners and pet grooming and other pet care services excluding veterinary services)

• Comparing the data for the two weeks, the first week was dominated by accommodation/food services workers at 2,407 and then 1,824 last week. Last week had 11,655 manufacturing claimants compared to 1,099 the week before.

• Public administration (local, state and federal government) and finance and insurance had the lowest reported claims at 62 and 69. Agriculture, mining and construction had no reported claims in EGR 3, indicating fewer than 10 claims in each week.

The claims represent the industry, the kind of work the employer does, not occupation, or the kind of work the employee does.

“While the closures of restaurants, retail and hotels and the associated job losses have gotten the public's attention, the share of manufacturing unemployment claims is alarming since this is the key industry in northeast Indiana as measured by both number of employees and total wages,” said Rachel Blakeman, Community Research Institute director at Purdue University Fort Wayne. 

“While there is some optimism that these layoffs will be temporary,” she said, “it's too early to tell how all of this will affect the local economy after the immediacy of the crisis.”

As The Journal Gazette first reported Thursday, layoff notices filed with state workforce officials show hundreds of workers affected at Busche Performance Group, a manufacturer. The company shuttered operations in Avilla and Albion and also closed a facility in Franklin. The moves by Busche displaced about 450.

Autoform Tool & Mfg. in Angola was expected today to start the last round of layoffs that will stop paychecks to about 240 workers.

As layoffs occur regionally, nationally and globally, there is a trickle-down effect in manufacturing “that reverberates all along the supply chains,” Rick Farrant, director of communications for Northeast Indiana Works, said in a statement.

“We experienced this in manufacturing during the recession that began in 2007-2008, but the speed with which layoffs have happened this time is stunning. It's unclear if last week's unemployment filings in manufacturing is a peak, but we certainly expect there to be more.”

One bright spot has been the hiring in the grocery industry as retailers including Walmart, Meijer and Kroger in March announced plans to hire hundreds locally and thousands overall in markets they operate in.

In some cases, they have also announced bonuses or “hazard pay” for workers, as they also take steps including extra sanitizing and installing plexiglass barriers to better shield employees from potential coronavirus exposure.

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