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ANDERSON — The unemployment rate in Indiana and Madison County is expected to slowly improve following the shutting down of the economy because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With thousands of Hoosiers applying for unemployment benefits, people have been dealing with long delays before receiving benefits.

A woman who resides in Johnson County sought help from the newspaper in Anderson to receive her unemployment benefits.

Shannon Murphy of Franklin contacted The Herald Bulletin this week seeking the email address for Fred Payne, the commissioner for the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Murphy has been unemployed since March 30 from a car dealership in Johnson County and has filled out the voucher for benefits 10 different times.

“I’m afraid to leave my house because I might miss a telephone call,” she said. “When I call I get a recording.”

Murphy said she is owed more than $7,400 in unemployment benefits and has not received any financial assistance since becoming unemployed.

She is receiving food stamps and indicated both the utility companies and her mortgage company are working with her.

“Thank God I don’t have any kids,” Murphy said. “I have depleted my savings account waiting on the unemployment benefits.”

Murphy’s story is not a unique one with several people in Madison County also awaiting their benefits.

Anderson resident Michael Manns waited five weeks to receive his first unemployment check after being put out of work at GTI.

“I got a check this week for all five weeks,” Manns said. “I had to do everything over the telephone. I was waiting on them to call me back.”

He expects to receive a weekly check for $722, which includes the $600 from the federal government.

Manns thought he would return to work in June.

“I’m ready to go back to work,” he said.

According to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, 2,219 people have lost their employment in Madison County since March.

That is a 3.9% loss in the number of jobs in Madison County. The employment number stood at 55,281 at the time of the government ordered stay-at-home directive.

As companies begin to reopen, the state has warned people that they will be losing their unemployment benefits if they don’t return to the jobs.

Last week the state said it averaged 376,920 vouchers per week for unemployment benefits in April.

Michael Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, said Wednesday the current unemployment rate in Indiana is approximately 25%.

“We don’t have the real time data,” he said. “The good news is the unemployment rate will go back down.”

Hicks said Indiana lost 80,000 manufacturing jobs over a six-week period and some of those companies are starting to bring employees back to work.

Some of the factories were going to close temporarily because the supply chain from China was interrupted, he said.

Hicks said the state unemployment rate could be under 20% in three months, but it won’t go under 10% or 12% in the near future.

“The question is how many people will go back to work,” Hicks said. “The surge in unemployment claims may ease up over the next few weeks.”

Right now, he said, one in four Indiana residents are out of work and the concern is that the consumer spending losses in the restaurant and entertainment industries shouldn’t be considered economic recovery.

“There are a lot of restaurants that are not going to make it,” Hicks said.

Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department, agreed with Hicks’ assessment of the unemployment rate in Indiana.

“Right now Hoosier Park is a big question that will be based on the governor’s decision,” he said. “Most of the factories will be calling back people to work two or three weeks after their customers start producing vehicles.”

Winkler said most of the vehicle manufacturers are returning to production and it is expected that factories in Madison County will be recalling employees in mid-June.

“Nestle’s has been at full production and Red Gold has been hiring to meet demand,” he said. “That’s a bright spot.”

Winkler said he is optimistic about companies recalling workers in the near future.

“It will be based on when people have confidence,” he said. “I see a lot of confidence that people believe there is a need to get the economy moving again.”

Winkler said all retail will change as a result of the pandemic and that internet commerce will continue to grow.

He said the Anderson Advanced Manufacturing Program is expected to start training local residents for employment with local companies in the late fall.

“We have reached out to our employers because their needs have changed,” Winkler said. “We are revamping the program to meet those needs.”

Concerning the delay in filling unemployment claims, Hicks said the Department of Workforce Development has not been efficient for a long time.

“The number of claims jumped tenfold over six weeks,” he said. “The agency moved into it unprepared.

“It would be a mistake to say the agency responded too slowly,” Hicks said. “They were not prepared for a downturn.”

Follow Ken de la Bastide

on Twitter @KendelaBastide,

or call 765-640-4863.

Senior Reporter covering Anderson and Madison County government, politics and auto racing for The Herald Bulletin. Has been working as a journalist in central Indiana since 1977.

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