Indiana's unemployment rate was almost unchanged from September to October, but officials said it's too early to tell whether the stability marks a long-awaited awaited rebound in employment.
The October jobless rate of 9.8 percent also was less than the national unemployment rate of 10.2 percent, according to new numbers from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Indiana's unemployment was greater than the national average from October 2008 until September.
DWD Commissioner Teresa Voors welcomed the stable unemployment rate, but said she wasn't too optimistic because of a projected soft holiday retail season and a slump in manufacturing and hospitality employment.
Indiana lost about 1,600 jobs in October, with gains in areas such as construction but declines in manufacturing and hospitality. A slowdown in domestic automobile manufacturing with the end of the "Cash for Clunkers" program was partly responsible for the loss of about 5,000 manufacturing positions, state officials said.
Stability in the jobless rate over the past few months bodes well for the state's economy, said Carol Rogers, deputy director of the Indiana Business Research Center. More jobs could be created in the coming month if businesses add workers for the holiday shopping season.
"A lot of this is going to depend on the retail season," Rogers said. "We're just going to have to watch what the retailers do."
Plenty of people in Indiana are still feeling the effects of the shaky economy. More than 291,000 Indiana residents were looking for work in October, up from 289,000 in September. The new numbers also showed a decrease in the state's labor force, which could be a sign that more discouraged workers have given up looking for a new job.
Charities including the Salvation Army are gearing up for what they expect will be a difficult winter. The organization's Indiana division said it had about 15 percent more requests for aid statewide this October than last.
"It's a telling sign," spokesman Michael Rowland said. "Families and people are hurting."
The Salvation Army hopes Indiana residents will give generously to its fundraising efforts, including the annual Red Kettle campaign that began Friday. People who can afford services such as house cleaning and lawn care might consider hiring people as a small way to boost employment, Rogers said.
"I think we can all sympathize, especially when it gets to be this time of year around the holidays," Rogers said. "It's really hard."
Elkhart County in northern Indiana, which has been hit hard by the decline of the recreational vehicle industry, again had the state's highest unemployment rate, at 14.9 percent. But unemployment there continues to decline after peaking in March at 18.8 percent. County-level data is not seasonally adjusted as the statewide rate is.