Unemployment stats belie local jobs picture
Straddling the narrow concrete median that divides those entering the Greencastle Walmart from the spendthrifts exiting onto Indianapolis Road, a thirtysomething man in jeans and sweatshirt cradles a cellphone between his neck and shoulder while holding up a crudely created cardboard sign scrawled with a brief message of despair.
Not the traditional "Will work for food" plea, mind you, but simply "Family in need of help."
Three exiting cars slow as drivers press dollar bills into his palm while he pays little attention to them, offering just a nod in return as he chats away on his phone.
Ironically, 100 yards to his right a large roadside sign at Ascena Group details job opportunities currently available, while on the opposite side of the street, Chiyoda proclaims in big letters, "Now hiring."
Meanwhile, drive up to McDonald's, a half-mile to the west, and its marquee notes, "Now hiring smiling faces for any shift."
So therein lies the dichotomy that has become the Putnam County jobs scene.
"You're not the first person who has pointed that out today," Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center Director Bill Dory says in response to the situation being brought up during discussions at the recent Greencastle Redevelopment Commission meeting.
While the current local jobless rate of 5.2 percent is just a tick behind the state average of 5.1 percent for September, the county ranking is tied with Benton and Scott counties for 55th best among Indiana's 92 counties.
Surprisingly, at the same time, several local businesses are advertising their openings, practically begging for help. All that while the number of people employed locally is at its second highest level ever, Dory said.
Moments earlier, Dory had just told the Redevelopment Commission "there are lots of job opportunities in the community for people who want to work."
The economic development expert had met with a couple of local employers that morning, coming away with a similar message to those spelled out in signage on the city's East Side.
"They're looking for people," he said. "There are jobs available if people are so inclined."
Putnam County reached its highest historic annual average of 17,793 people participating in the labor force in 2005, Dory explained, while in 2006, the county reached its highest historic annual average of 16,797 persons employed.
"In the last few months," he told the Banner Graphic, "the monthly
numbers are close to these historic highs with 17,918 people participating in the labor force in July of 2014 and 16,854 people employed in July of 2014.
"While September's employment and unemployment numbers are slightly lower," Dory noted, "it is not unusual for the monthly numbers to move up and down each month."
September's report showed 17,483 persons in the local labor force, and 16,576 persons employed. Those numbers are less than two percent below the historic highs.
Yet the county's jobless rate is higher than the state average.
That unemployment rate, Dory explained, is the result, in part, of people entering or re-entering the labor force slightly faster than the growth in employment.
"Given the number of businesses seeking new employees both here in Putnam County and in neighboring Hendricks County, this is not a bad thing," Dory suggested.
Overall, the economy across the state continues to improve, he added.
"Here in Indiana," Dory said, "many of the low unemployment counties (i.e., Hamilton, Boone and Hendricks) are around the largest cities such as Indianapolis. Often these areas see recovery first, which then spreads to more rural areas such as Putnam County.
"The monthly employment, unemployment and unemployment rate for Putnam County is the local version of the numbers reported for the nation in local and national media," he added. "In full disclosure, the margin of error in the local numbers is larger than the state and national numbers."
While the Putnam County figure for September ranks 55th best in the state, that is still better than three contiguous counties -- Clay at 5.9 percent, good for 12th worst; Parke at 5.6 percent for 71st best (or 22nd worst); and Owen at 5.5, tied for 63rd best.
Meanwhile, neighboring counties Hendricks, Morgan and Montgomery all landed in the upper half of the September numbers with Hendricks uncharacteristically out of the top 10 and tied for 11th best at 4.2 percent. Morgan was at 4.5 percent, good for 24th best, while Montgomery came in at 4.9 percent, tied for 44th.
Indiana's best jobless figure (3.4 percent) is again owned by Dubois County with Hamilton and Bartholomew tied for second at 3.8, followed in the top five by Wells and Daviess at 3.9.
Rounding out the Hoosier top 10 for September are Kosciusko and Boone at 4.0, followed by Pulaski, Martin and Jackson, all at 4.1 percent.
Meanwhile, landing at the bottom of Indiana jobless pack for September were Lake at 7.2 percent unemployment, Sullivan at 7.1 percent, Fayette and Vigo at 7.0 percent, followed by LaPorte at 6.5 percent, Vermillion at 6.4, Lawrence at 6.2, and Grant, Greene, Jasper and Miami, all at 6.0.