TERRE HAUTE —
The unemployment rate grabs headlines and Americans’ attention on a national level, for the most part.
Month after month in 2012, that percentage of the U.S. population without jobs creates a new barometer in the race for the presidency. If it rises, Republican challenger Mitt Romney gains momentum. If it drops, President Obama picks up support. When the economic figures appear murky, both sides hunt for an advantage within the statistics. That parsing process revved up again on Friday, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its July figures showing mixed results — the national unemployment rate ticked upward, slightly, from 8.22 percent to 8.25, while the economy added a better-than-expected 163,000 new jobs.
Romney sees it as more languishing. Obama sees hints of progress.
Average Joes and Janes can watch that debate, but the employment picture matters most in their own communities and states. Those local and regional barometers also warrant regular scrutiny.
The Wabash Valley finds itself in an uncomfortable spot in the latest unemployment numbers. The Terre Haute metropolitan statistical area (which includes Vigo, Clay, Sullivan and Vermillion counties) holds the only double-digit jobless rate among the state’s 12 metros. In June, 10.3 percent of the Terre Haute labor force was unemployed, up from 9.6 percent in May.
The report from the Bureau of Labor contained some bright spots. In particular, Terre Haute added 100 jobs in the manufacturing sector in June. That was not enough to offset an overall loss of 1,029 local jobs during the month. Nine-hundred of those jobs were listed as government positions. State officials have questioned the bureau’s figures on lost government jobs, but Paul LaPorte, an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Midwest office in Chicago said such June decreases follow patterns from previous years. Government job losses totaled 600 in June 2011, 1,200 in June 2010, and 800 in June 2009, LaPorte said. Most involve teachers who may be out of one position after May and then fill another in August, he explained.
Regardless, Terre Haute needs to climb, compared with other towns on both a statewide and national level. Within Indiana, its jobless rate ranked below (in order, from the top) Columbus, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis-Carmel, Lafayette, Bloomington, Elkhart-Goshen, Kokomo, South Bend-Mishawaka, Anderson, Michigan City-LaPorte and Muncie. In terms of growth from June 2011 to June 2012, payrolls in the Elkhart-Goshen metro added 9,200 employees. In that same one-year period, the Terre Haute area grew by 1,000 jobs, the bureau reported.
Nationally, Terre Haute’s unemployment rate in June ranked near the bottom — 321st out of 372 American cities.
This quest for good-paying, steady jobs is never-ending for numerous entities here, including city and county governments, economic development organizations, job-training services, Ivy Tech Community College and work force development services.
But Terre Haute’s slip to the wrong end of the state and national jobless rankings can also serve as a healthy jolt to the rest of community. It signals an opportunity to detect weaknesses in that network of job-growth agencies. It’s important to tout our local assets, yet it’s just as crucial to examine and remedy the areas which are lacking.