SOUTHERN INDIANA — Unemployment rates in Clark County and Floyd County are trickling closer to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Clark County’s jobless rate dropped from 4.3 to 4.2% in February. Its unemployment rate in February of 2020, before the pandemic caused shutdowns which resulted in layoffs, was 3.2%.

Floyd County’s unemployment rate was unchanged from January to February, remaining at 3.8%. In February 2020, Floyd County’s jobless mark was 3.1%.

Nationally, a BLS report issued Friday showed U.S. employment rose by 916,000 positions in March, bringing the jobless rate to 6%.

“The rate is down considerably from its recent high in April 2020 but is 2.5 percentage points higher than its pre-pandemic level in February 2020,” the BLS noted in its report.

A household survey conducted by BLS showed that 21% of those employed reported they teleworked in March due to the pandemic — a drop of 22.7% from February.

About 11.4 million people reported they were unable to work due to pandemic-related closures or losses, which was a decrease from 13.3 million in February.

“The March jobs report offered more evidence of a slowly strengthening economy,” said Michael Hicks, an economist and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University.

The leisure and hospitality sector continued to rebound in March, and goods production was also up, Hicks noted.

“Average hourly wages declined, but the loss can be chalked up to job growth among lower paid workers,” he said.

While Indiana economists have forecasted a quicker recovery for the state, it could be next year before the nation returns to pre-pandemic levels, Hicks said.

“This jobs report continues to point towards a slow recovery from the deepest employment downturn since the early years of the Great Depression,” he said. “At the employment growth rates of the last quarter, the U.S. won’t fully recover to its pre-pandemic level of employment until summer of 2022.”

Based on the rate the economy grew over the past six months, it could actually be 2023 before the nation returns to January 2019 employment levels, Hicks continued.

“This is a great jobs report that shows unusually robust growth in construction and a slow return to normalcy that all Americans crave,” he said. “But, the economy remains years away from absorbing those workers displaced by the COVID recession.”

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