Indiana's unemployment rate held steady in July, though more people found work in the Calumet Region, according to government data released Monday.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained 8.4 percent last month. Northwest Indiana's jobless rate fell to 9.6 percent from 9.8 percent over the same period.
Initial unemployment claims have fallen to their lowest level in more than a decade. About 266,000 Hoosiers were unemployed last month, while more than 2.9 million had jobs, according to the state agency.
Indiana's private sector added 5,900 jobs in July, largely because of growth in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, as well as in the professional and business services sector.
More than 10,800 jobs were added in the trade, transportation and utilities industries, while professional and business services firms hired 4,100 more workers. Those gains far outweighed losses in the construction and manufacturing sectors, which together lost 5,400 jobs last month.
"The trade, transportation and utilities sector experienced the largest one-month growth since 1990," said Scott Sanders, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. "Initial claims for unemployment insurance in 2013 have been at their lowest levels since 2000, the peak of employment in the Hoosier State."
Indiana has added more than 203,000 private sector jobs since July 2009, the low point of employment in Indiana. The state has added private sector jobs in 40 out of the last 43 months, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.
Lake County's unemployment rate fell to 10.1 percent last month from 10.4 percent in June. Porter County's rate dropped to 8.2 percent in July from 8.4 percent the month prior, while LaPorte County's rate declined to 9.9 percent in July from 10.3 percent in June.
The Northwest Indiana rate tends to lag behind the state, largely because of the high concentration of manufacturing jobs in the region, said Micah Pollak, a professor of economics at Indiana University Northwest. Manufacturers cannot add jobs as quickly as other industries because new positions tend to be more long-term and the companies have to be more confident about future economic growth.
"It's good news for the region, but there's been some stagnancy at the state level and that doesn't bode well," he said.
Unemployment in Indiana remains lower than Illinois, which is at 9 percent, but it is still higher than the national rate of 7.4 percent.
Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the latest jobs report offered no solace to the middle class and showed the state's job climate was stagnant.
"Successful local businesses and new job opportunities require consumer spending," he said. "Consumers need paychecks and relief from the threat of rising medical expenses, the costs of job training and the continual efforts to depress wages. We need a new approach that focuses on our middle class profit creators, and not just on investors who pocket money without creating new opportunities for others."
State officials have questions about the methodology used to calculate the unemployment rate, since one set of federal data says the state has been continually adding jobs while another set shows no significant dent in the unemployment rate, spokesman Joe Frank said.
The federal government comes up with the unemployment rate by surveying 1,000 people and asking questions such as whether they are working that week or looking for work, Frank said. Jobs are estimated by asking employers about their payrolls.
"Lately, over the past few years, there's been a discrepancy even though we're adding jobs at a very good clip," Frank said. "We've asked four different times, but the Department of Labor's response has always been that they stand by their model and won't change it until 2015."