Unemployment ticks up across Northwest Indiana

Jose Sandoval, left, of Hammond, gets apprentice information from Lee Culver, of Plumbers Local 210, at Hammond's job fair at the Jean Shepherd Community Center in this file photo. Unemployment ticked up in Northwest Indiana last month, but the number was not seasonally adjusted.

Unemployment ticked up across Northwest Indiana in February, but the state's estimates are not seasonally adjusted.

The joblessness rate rose to 5.5 percent in February, up from 5.4 percent the previous month, across the Gary metropolitan area, which encompasses Lake, Porter, Newton and Jasper counties. The unemployment rate in the Gary metro was 5.3 percent a year prior, according to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

The figures are not adjusted for seasonal variations, such as a decline in jobs at construction sites, parks, beaches, and marinas when it gets colder. While many fast food restaurants and other businesses may be displaying "now hiring" signs on their marquees and windows, the unemployment rate sometimes counterintuitively increases during strong labor markets because potential workers who had long been sidelined reenter the labor market by actively seeking work.

The government defines the unemployed as those who do not have jobs but are currently seeking work. The rate does not reflect the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, but is determined by phone surveys.

In February, Lake County had the state's sixth-highest jobless rate at 5.8 percent, unchanged from January and up from 5.6 percent in February 2017. Lake County's jobless rate remained higher than the unemployment rates in the state, neighboring Illinois, the Chicago area as a whole and the country, but was not the highest in Northwest Indiana in an extremely rare occurrence.

LaPorte County topped Northwest Indiana in the jobless rate in February and ranked second out of Indiana's 92 counties at 5.9 percent unemployment, which was up from 5.6 percent in January.

Joblessness in the Michigan City-LaPorte metro area, which is just LaPorte County, also rose by 0.3 percentage points month-over-month in February.

Porter County's unemployment remained unchanged at 4.6 percent in February and was the 26th highest jobless rate statewide.

Overall, Indiana's unemployment rate stayed steady at 3.5 percent. The national unemployment rate was 3.8 percent last month.

Unemployment climbed as high as 12 percent in Northwest Indiana during the depths of the Great Recession a decade ago.

Joblessness rose in February in Crown Point, Hammond, Hobart and Michigan City, rising by as much as 0.6 percent in Hobart. It remained steady at 4.1 percent in Schererville and declined in East Chicago, Gary, Merrillville, Portage and Valparaiso. Joblessness dropped by as much as 0.5 percent in Michigan City.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.