Expert: County economy to continue recovery in 2021

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

JASPER — After the COVID-19 pandemic caused the toughest recession since the Great Depression, the United States — and Dubois County, specifically — is expected to have a much better 2021, according to a recent economic analysis presentation.

Indiana University Southeast Professor Uric Dufrene, a Sanders Chair in Business who studies economic trends, presented his findings Wednesday to about 15 participants over Zoom. An economic outlook is presented annually through the Jasper Chamber of Commerce.

Through analyzing limited local data and comparing it to national trends, Dufrene said the county can expect to fully recover lost jobs by the end of the year, mostly due to favorable consumer trends and a strong manufacturing environment.

Although manufacturing jobs have been known to dominate the Dubois County workforce, the number of people with manufacturing jobs has actually decreased over the past 20 years, while jobs in fields such as health care have significantly increased.

“I don’t see this as a negative,” Dufrene said. “I think this simply shows that you have more diversification in the economy.”

Since the pandemic reached the U.S., nearly 40 million people have lost their jobs.

“We’ve never seen such a decline,” he said. “We had significant job losses in the Great Recession, but those, of course, pale in comparison to what we saw in the pandemic.”

However, the country, including Dubois County, bounced back much faster than it did after the Great Recession. It took less than a year to nearly recover the economy to pre-pandemic levels, as opposed to about four years that it took to recover from the recession that began in 2007.

Although this recession will likely not officially end until late 2021, Dufrene said, unemployment rates have significantly rebounded. In 11 months, the U.S. recovered 89% of new claims for unemployment.

“This is certainly the toughest stretch because some of these jobs are not going to come back because of changes in production processes, becoming more efficient out of necessity, in some cases relying more on machines or automation,” Dufrene said.

The unemployment rate in Dubois County is below 4%, lower than surrounding areas. Dufrene said he expects these rates to continually improve as more people are vaccinated and COVID-19 cases continue to drop.

And just as many in the country have recovered from unemployment, most working Americans are back to working the same hours, including overtime hours, as they were before the pandemic, according to regional and national data.

Dufrene said he suspects that the Jasper micropolitan area, which covers Dubois and Pike counties, is doing especially well because of its manufacturing jobs, even though there are fewer than in previous years.

“It’s quite impressive how dominant manufacturing is,” he said. “But there were some restrictions that manufacturers had to deal with ... in terms of floor layouts and proximity to other workers and dealing with worker illnesses.”

However, looking at data such as the manufacturing index and inventory to sales ratio indicates that the industry will do well in the coming years, Dufrene said.

At the same time, jobs in accommodation and food services are only slightly down and jobs in retail trade are increasing. Across the country, there has been a big increase in demand for truck drivers and registered nurses, as well.

Additionally, personal income levels are higher across the country than previous years. Dufrene said this is likely due to stimulus checks and fewer opportunities to spend money on things such as vacations and eating out.

“This does not mean that some households are not facing challenges, there are certainly significant challenges out there that remain,” he said. “But overall, in a macro sense, the savings rates are very high.”

Overall, Dufrene said although the country is still struggling, it will not experience a “double-dip” recession. This means that, for the most part, many people will be in the clear of one of the worst economic periods ever.




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