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Economic Update | Southern Indiana Payrolls Show Continued Progress

By Dr. Uric Dufrene, Sanders Chair in Business and Professor of Finance, Indiana University Southeast

New data released confirms that the recovery in Southern Indiana is well on its way and quite strong.   STATS Indiana Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages for the 3rd quarter of 2021 show that the five Indiana counties of the Louisville Metro region added 2,821 from the 3rd quarter of 2020.   This marks the second-largest quarterly gain since the end of the Covid recession, but a deceleration from the significant increase of the previous 2nd quarter.   As of the 3rd quarter of 2021, the region was down only about 663 jobs from the level that existed during the 3rd quarter of 2019.

The largest gain occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector with accommodation and food services adding almost 1,000 jobs.   This puts accommodation and food services about 450 payrolls short of the total that existed in the 3rd quarter of 2019.  Challenges faced in accommodation and food services are more about supply as opposed to demand.   Patrons are there to dine out, but establishments continue to face labor scarcity issues and supply availability.    There are certainly anecdotes and media accounts of restaurants closing due to the lack of staffing, for example.

Transportation and warehousing gained another 832 positions from the previous year.  This industry has experienced the largest growth across Southern Indiana since 2019, adding about 2,900 positions.      The economy saw the largest increase in goods spending over a two-year period in the history of the series, and this was the origin of the supply chain issues that we continue to face today.   The supply chain capacity simply was not large enough to accommodate the level of goods spending that occurred.   In essence, the growth in transportation and warehousing payrolls reflects an expansion in the supply chain capacity.

The Admin. & Support & Waste Mgt. & Rem. Services industry gained 573 payrolls from the previous year. This likely reflects gains to temporary labor services.    As an economy expands, employers will often resort to temporary labor services to help meet demand.   Since 2019, 437 payrolls were added making it the industry with the 2nd highest level of expansion, second to transportation and warehousing.

Brick and mortar retail is not dead.  Retail trade gained an additional 265 jobs from the previous year, and the industry has a higher job count than existed in 2019.     Significant demand for hires remains.   Job postings data show that retail salespersons rank 3rd in postings behind registered nurses and truck drivers.

Manufacturing gained another 198 jobs, but total payrolls are still down almost 1,900 from 2019.   Even with a decline of almost 2,000 jobs, total wages are up in manufacturing.  This suggests that overall productivity is higher as manufacturers have been able to meet demand, but with fewer employees.  Average weekly wages are up by $111 since 2019, representing an 11% gain.

The number of establishments saw the second-largest increase (+191) since 2001.  This follows the largest increase (+203) that occurred during the first quarter of 2020.   This points to a favorable long-term outlook for the region and is reflective of the positive economic development trends.

Payroll data at the county level does come with an approximate 6-month lag.  We can get a more recent view with labor force data, however.        Here we see that the region continues to make significant strides in employment recovery. Compared to December 2019, the region is down in employment by almost 2,000.   This is a considerable improvement from the Covid decline of almost 40,000.   The labor force remains down by almost 4,000, and the difficulty that employers face is linked to the availability of this labor.   Gains to the labor force will support payroll growth, and we can expect additional gains to the region’s labor force over 2022.

Data sources:  FactSet, STATS Indiana QCEW

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