Lower unemployment means no more extended benefits

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - A lower unemployment rate in Indiana turns out to be bad news for some long-term jobless in the state who will see their unemployment benefits come to end next month.

About 10,000 Indiana residents who have been unemployed for more than 79 weeks will no longer be eligible to receive 20 more weeks of extended federal benefits after April 15 because the state's three-month average unemployment rate is no longer 110 percent higher than it was three years ago.

That has some who work with the unemployed worried.

"When you talk about unemployment still being high and benefits being taken away, that's a volatile cocktail," said Rod Roberson, executive director of Church Community Services in Elkhart, which provides a food pantry and other social services to those in need.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development announced Tuesday that Indiana's unemployment rate dipped to 8.7 percent in January, down from a revised December rate of 8.9 percent. In Elkhart County, where the unemployment rate spiked to 18.9 percent in March 2009, it was down to 11.2 percent in January. But Roberson said many people still need help and Indiana isn't ready for the loss of benefits.

"I know a lot of people think unemployment is an entitlement, but it's not. It's just that, unemployment, and we would like to see it stay in place until we can get more people back at a gainful wage," he said.

Other counties had higher unemployment rates, including Fayette County in eastern Indiana at 12.7 and Clay County at 12.5 percent and Putnam County at 12.1 percent on the western side of the state.

Indiana residents first became eligible for the extended benefits in March 2009, remained eligible until December of the year and became eligible again a month later when federal and state lawmakers made changes in the law, Workforce Development spokeswoman Valerie Kroeger said.

The department attributed the lower unemployment rate for January to the state adding 13,000 private sector jobs in January, the largest monthly increase in more than a year.

As Gov. Mitch Daniels predicted a day earlier, the department also announced that Bureau of Labor Statistics data show 43,000 jobs were added in the private sector in Indiana in 2011. The bureau originally stated Indiana added 27,000 jobs.

"It turns out private employment in Indiana has grown by 4.9 percent since the bottom in 2009, well above national growth of 3.2 percent," said Mark W. Everson, Workforce Development commissioner.


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