Virus Outbreak Indiana Unemployment

A sign advertising for jobs sits along the roadside outside a FedEx location in Zionsville, Ind., Thursday, April 2, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Almost 200,000 people in Indiana are still getting unemployment compensation as businesses in the state struggle to find people to work.

In May, the National Federation of Independent Business surveyed members nationwide and found an all-time high of 48% have unfilled jobs.

The head of the Indiana chapter of NFIB, Barbara Quandt, says she thinks it’s close to 48% for Indiana, also, and says she’s hearing from many small business owners in the state who are desperate for employees.

“They had loosened up criteria, first of all, to be able to collect unemployment, and then they had the additional stipend,” she says.

Independent contractors, free-lancers and the self-employed, including artists, musicians, and Uber drivers, qualified for unemployment benefits through the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, under the CARES Act.

“They suspended all of those rules,” says Quandt, “so you could just say I’m unemployed and it was a lot easier to collect unemployment. In fact, you could have been an entrepreneur or someone else like that who said, ‘I can’t work right now. I’m going to collect unemployment,’ Under normal circumstances, they couldn’t collect.”

And the $300-per-week supplement from the federal government made a big difference.

While Indiana normally has one of the lowest average weekly unemployment benefit amounts in the country – just $255 per week, compared to Massachusetts at $473 a week – with the added $300 per week stipend many people were making more on unemployment than they had made on the job.

Indiana’s unemployment rate stands at a low 3.9% – compared to 16.9% a year ago – but 199,528 people were still collecting unemployment as of May 1, the most recent date for which information is available from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

This is down slightly from April, when it was 209,338.

The number of people on unemployment reached an all-time high in May 2020 when it hit 457,247. In that month, the state paid out a total of $1.4 billion in unemployment insurance payments

Since March 2020, a total of 866,557 people in Indiana have gotten unemployment benefits and the total that has been paid out is $8.5 billion. Just less than 20% of this was state money, and the remaining 80% was federal money.

The federal government extended the $300 extra benefit, and extended the ability for self-employed people to claim it, but in May, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that as of June 19, Indiana will no longer accept this money – meaning that the extra $300 per week will stop, and self-employed will no longer be able to receive unemployment at all.

Also Indiana reinstated the work-search requirement, effective June 1, which means that anyone filing for unemployment or who wants to continue to claim benefits needs to input into the system each week where they’ve gone to apply for a job, or to which company they’ve sent a resume or application.

Meanwhile, the shortage of people willing to work persists.

At the McDonald’s in Bloomington in late May, a big banner went up facing the busy street, advertising a starting wage of $12 an hour, and $15 an hour for those willing to work the night shift – more than twice the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

In the NFIB survey, 34% of small business owners said they’d had to raise pay, the highest level in the past 12 months, and 22% said they planned to raise employee pay in the next three months.