By Marilyn Odendahl, Truth Staff
ELKHART -- Along with sustained double-digit unemployment, Elkhart County has seen its labor force shrink during this recession, indicating some residents are leaving possibly to be closer to family, to get a much-needed new job or just to find hope.
Stories from the local charitable agencies bolster the evidence of outmigration. Clients going to Church Community Services occasionally repeat rumors they have heard that jobs are available in Texas, and social workers at the Goshen Salvation Army wonder if the easing of their workloads is because people are leaving the community.
From September 2007 through December 2009, the county's labor force decreased 11.3 percent, according to Grant Black, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at Indiana University South Bend. Residents leaving the area might be one reason for the decline, although the number of individuals typically not counted as part of the work force -- such as those who have retired or who want a job but have given up trying to find one -- might also be growing.
Black stopped short of calling the diminishing size of the local labor force alarming, but he did describe it as a "substantial change."
David Pecze, a member of Open Door Christian Fellowship church on C.R. 5, is struggling with a decision to stay or leave. The marketing professional would prefer to stay at his home in South Bend, close to his aging parents, but being out of work since October 2008 and slowly depleting his financial resources, he may have to relocate if he lands a job.
"This whole recession has been a real challenge," Pecze, an Indiana University graduate, said. "You go through your life and your career and you go to one of the top schools in the nation so that you have the opportunity to succeed in your career. You try to do the right things and then things like this happen."
Part of the organization People Between Jobs, Pecze has noticed some members of the group have left the area to find work but then returned. Most would like to stay here, he said, but they have bills to pay.
Black expects the size of the labor force to increase as jobs become more available. Still, economic growth could be hindered if the pool of workers remains small and companies cannot find the employees they need to expand or locate here.
Former Middlebury residents Ed and Shirley Trayford moved to Texas in 2005 for the warmer weather. There the retirees said they have found a stable economy that not only gave Ed a job delivering auto parts two days after he started looking for part-time work but is also diverse enough to have weathered the recession.
However, the couple cautioned others who are thinking about relocating. They need to know before they move if they will be able to find a job in their new home and if they will like living in another part of the country, Ed said, noting people without a taste for hot summers probably would not like Texas.
Bradney McCain, case manager at Individuals and Families In Transition, is more and more talking honestly with his clients about leaving Elkhart. If they have no job, no place to live and no family in the area, McCain asks them why are they staying. Often these people do not want to move, calling Elkhart "a wonderful place to live," but they do not have a choice, he said.
Rita Lane at CCS is not surprised people are leaving. Although recent announcements have brought the promise of new jobs, she pointed out those positions will not materialize for a few more years and some people cannot wait.
"The mortgage lenders," Lane said, "are not going to go without pay."
Truth Reporter Tom Lange contributed to this story.