A key report on Northwest Indiana's economy Monday showed productivity is up, but not because more workers have been hired. In Northwest Indiana, at least, this seems to be the jobless recovery everyone has been worried about.
When the Northwest Indiana Council of Economic Advisors presented its first report on the region's economy, in November 2011, the brain trust reported there were 358,411 jobs as of last count. That had shrunk to 351,652 by Monday's report.
Labor force participation — the people either already employed or looking for work — had shrunk from 56.8 percent to 56 percent.
We need jobs, and we need job applicants to have the skills required for them.
Robyn Minton, of the Center of Workforce Innovations compared job growth at the national, state and local level. For a while, the three arrows kept going in the same direction. Then Northwest Indiana's arrow broke and started pointing to the bottom.
Looking at 2010-11 to 2011-12 data, Minton said, "Right here there's a significant decoupling." That's when Northwest Indiana started falling away.
Northwest Indiana's economic development efforts must result in more jobs for the region's workforce. This is urgent.
That includes not just bringing more companies here but also encouraging existing companies to expand.
Additionally, young people must be encouraged to pursue postsecondary education, and people in their 30s and 40s who aren't fully employed must be encouraged to go back to school for an associate degree or certificate that would make them more marketable in the evolving labor market.
Economics is called the dismal science for a reason, but not all the news on the labor market is dismal. Here's something downright inspiring:
On Thursday, a team at the ArcelorMittal Global R&D Center in East Chicago was handed the Chanute Prize for Team Innovation, an award by the Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana. It's a traveling trophy, so now it's ArcelorMittal's turn to host it for six months.
The project that earned this honor is impressive. The team figured out how to make auto parts with steel that is a total of 14 percent lighter and reduces the carbon footprint 14 percent over the life of the vehicle.
It's a big deal — huge — because it means keeping steel competitive as automakers move toward a 54 mpg standard for every vehicle in the fleet.
ArcelorMittal's Indiana Harbor plant alone sold about 5 million tons of steel to the automotive market last year. So workers' innovative thinking is protecting jobs in the region.
Without efforts like this one, those Northwest Indiana job statistics would be even worse.