Elkhart County unemployment hits 18.3% in January

Last month heads turned, jaws dropped, and the President of the United States came to town when Elkhart County’s December unemployment rate hit 15.3 percent.

Now that rate has climbed to 18.3 percent with the release of the January unemployment report.

The Elkhart area unemployment problem showed no signs of slowing down with a total of 18,412 people now out of work. In fact, in January, the ranks of Elkhart County’s unemployed grew at a rate of 95-people per day.

“That’s a big number,” said B.J. Thompson, a board member with the Recreational Vehicle Association, “and besides just being numbers, we realize that there are families, there are people behind those numbers.”

“It’s very alarming,” said Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore, and there’s nothing that tells us it has bottomed out yet.”

With the local unemployment rate now topping 18-percent, Mayor Moore spends about 99-percent of his time in front of his computer. “I describe my computer here now almost as a rolodex system, as something pops up about stimulus you know every hour or so.”

Mayor Moore believes that money from the federal stimulus package is needed to turn things around. “It’s an extremely serious situation, and we’ve got to get some money back here to get people back to work.”

The January figures again show Elkhart and LaGrange Counties with the highest unemployment rates in the state, but it also shows significant increases in the rates of Marshall County (14.8 percent) Starke County (14.3 percent) Kosciusko County (14.0 percent) and even St. Joseph County (10.6 percent).

Last month, a 15.3 percent unemployment rate in Elkhart County was deemed serious enough to draw the President of the United States to town. Now, the situation is much more common with the release of the January report. Six Indiana counties now have unemployment rates above 15 percent, 12 Indiana counties now have unemployment rates topping 14 percent, and 51 Indiana counties (more than half) now have double digit unemployment rates above 10 percent.

“The troubles we’re (Elkhart County) having now are not a result of anything that we did,” said Kyle Hannon with the Elkhart Area Chamber of Commerce. “There’s still a desire for the products that we make, it’s just that people are having difficulty getting the money to do it. The thing is that the situation transfers pretty easily so the unemployment we have today, is the unemployment they will have tomorrow.”

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is becoming more aggressive in attacking the credit crunch. Next week, the association will be in South Bend to brief its members on the latest developments.

According to B.J. Thompson the seminars will “take a look at some initiatives and some programs that are being developed with credit unions and also to try and get some of those dollars from the stimulus plan down to where they actually mean something to the dealers for wholesale financing and to consumers for retail financing.”