Indiana’s unemployment rate held steady at 3.1% in February, just before a wave of job losses and unemployment applications in March due to the coronavirus pandemic that threaten to send the rate much higher.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported the state’s February employment statistics on Friday morning with a prominent caveat that they only cover Feb. 1 through Feb. 29.
In that period, the state’s unemployment rate remained at 3.1%, the same as in January.
Indiana’s labor force—which is composed of both employed and unemployed-but-willing-to-work residents—rose by 3,114 workers from January to February, essentially remaining at 3.39 million.
Indiana’s labor-force participation rate—the percentage of the state’s population that is either employed or actively seeking work—also held firm at 64.4%, ahead of the national rate of 63.4%.
Private sector employment in Indiana grew by 3,900 in February over the previous month, the state said. Total private employment was 2,748,000, which was 1,300 below the January 2019 peak.
The increase was due in large part to gains in Private Educational and Health Services (2,300) and the Construction (1,600) sectors. Losses occurred in Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-1,500) and Professional and Business Services (-300).
The unemployment rate in Indiana for February was lower than the rates in neighboring states Michigan (3.6%), Illinois (3.4%), Ohio (4.1%) and Kentucky (4.2%).
The unemployment rate for the United States dipped from 3.6% in January to a 50-year low of 3.5% in February. That is expected to change significantly when figures for March are compiled, due to a surge in layoffs as business activity in many sectors slows to a near standstill.
Efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus have all but eliminated the ability to gather in groups in many states, either socially or professionally. That has gutted employment in sectors including food service, travel, manufacturing and hospitality.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday ordered residents to stay at home through April 6, except those performing essential work or certain permitted activities.
Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week—more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of layoffs.
In Indiana, initial claims filed for the week ended March 21 rose to a whopping 61,635, up from 2,596 claims the previous week, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13% by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10%.
With layoffs surging, a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for the millions who will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak was included in a $2.2 trillion economic relief bill nearing final approval in Congress.