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ANDERSON — As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Madison County and elsewhere, the area’s unemployment rate remains at 5.2%, slightly above the Indiana average of 5%.

Nationally, the number of first-time applicants for unemployment aid jumped to 853,000, the most since September, suggesting that progress in getting residents back to work — especially in service industries — during the pandemic will remain sluggish in the foreseeable future.

“We still have opportunities for folks, but with some traditional sector jobs, there’s still a lot of pressure from COVID,” said Rob Sparks, executive director of the Corporation for Economic Development.

The unemployment rate for Anderson in October remained at 6.8%, according to a report from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Numbers for November are expected to be released next week.

Sparks said that while the local unemployment rate may tick down slightly due to seasonal hiring for the holidays, a truer barometer of overall workforce vitality will likely come once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, likely in the first few months of 2021.

“I think in certain sectors, there’s going to be a lot of pressure until the vaccines are widely distributed,” he said. “The key indicators I’m looking for in looking for normalcy to come back are, how does the (vaccine) rollout go, and the trending of hospitalizations.”

Overall, though, as long as further lockdown restrictions are avoided, volatility in the job market should continue to ease after the holidays.

“That’s just the nature of some industries,” Sparks said. “We’re in a tough moment right now, but all in all I’m optimistic that the worst is behind us.”

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