The local unemployment rate dropped in July after two months of increases, but one economist said a different number is a bigger concern.
Morton Marcus, a retired economics professor, said the focus shouldn’t be on the unemployment rates but instead on how many people in the state are working.
“We focus on the unemployment rate. The really important number is how many people have jobs. That’s what our real goal is: to get as many people having jobs and taking home a paycheck as possible,” Marcus said.
In July, the unemployment rate in Johnson County decreased to 6.9 percent, while the statewide rate rose to 8.2 percent, up from 8 percent in June. Many nearby counties also saw slight decreases last month. Hamilton County had the lowest rate in the Indianapolis area, at 5.9 percent.
The June jobless rate was 7.1 percent in Johnson County and 8 percent statewide. In May, the county rate was 6.9 percent.
For the unemployment rate to continue to decrease, Indiana must create 4,000 to 5,000 private-sector jobs per month, a total of more than 50,000 jobs a year, Marcus said.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reported that the state created 3,300 private-sector jobs in July, bringing the total number of jobs created this year to 34,400.
That number is on track to hit the 50,000 jobs needed to boost the state’s economy, he said.
“The economy is growing in a sluggish fashion,” Marcus said. “But it is growing.”
The nation as a whole is drastically behind in the number of jobs created each month in order to keep up with population growth, said Matt Will, associate finance professor at the University of Indianapolis.
To keep up with the population, at least 350,000 jobs must be created each month nationwide, he said.
While the unemployment rates for Indiana and Johnson County have remained lower than the national level over the past year, that’s no guarantee for the future, Will said.
“Johnson County is obviously looking better. But it cannot go against the national tide,” he said. “If the national economy gets worse, Indiana, for as much as we’ve done, we can’t resist forever.”