KOKOMO — Howard County led the state with the highest unemployment rate in May, according to the latest job report from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. The preliminary data shows it was 21.8 percent.
Fayette and Orange Counties had the next highest unemployment rates. Each saw more than 18 percent in May.
In March, manufacturing companies suspended operations at their plants across the country, and that meant thousands of people in Kokomo were temporarily out of a job. Most of the unemployment initial claims from Howard County since March are attributed to the manufacturing industry.
General Motors, Haynes International and Fiat Chrysler operate plants in Kokomo.
“It is a concern when there is a reliance on a major industry,” said Tyler Moore, mayor of Kokomo.
In April, the state recorded an unemployment rate of 33.5 percent. The numbers moved in the right direction in May. It dropped to just over 20 percent last month, according to preliminary data from Indiana DWD.
For comparison, unemployment in the county was just over 3 percent in May 2019.
“We fully expect to see the unemployment numbers and percentages drop in Kokomo as corporations and plants get back to full capacity,” said Moore.
WorkOne in Kokomo is a resource available to people looking for a job. The employment assistance office connects them to companies searching for new hires.
“We are here. We are here to help you,” said Anthony Murphy, team leader for Kokomo WorkOne. “Provide job search assistance, resume development, career exploration.”
General Motors brought their Kokomo site back online after announcing a partnership in March to mass produce ventilators with Ventec Life System.
Fiat Chrysler paused operations at all of their North American plants on March 18, including their Indiana plants. The company restarted operations locally on May 26.
A spokesperson for Fiat Chrysler said most of their Kokomo and Tipton plants are back to their pre-COVID operating patters and they will be back to full shift schedules the week of July 13.
“A few small businesses struggling and some may not be ale to weather the storm,” said Moore. “For the most part, it was a challenge and a bit of a strain but everybody continued to rally for each other.”