By Rusty Nixon, Pilot News Correspondent

PLYMOUTH - "When Elkhart County gets pneumonia, we're going to get a cold."

Tom Turner, director of the Marshall County Economic Development Corp., had that concise analysis of new numbers released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development that show Indiana's unemployment rate soaring to 8.2 percent in December, one of the largest jumps in the nation. Marshall County came in with the fifth highest number of unemployed in the state at 12 percent.

More than 260,000 Hoosiers were unemployed in December - up from about 220,000 in November, when the unemployment rate was 7.1 percent.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia recorded unemployment increases, but Indiana and South Carolina were the two states with the most dramatic one-month jumps. The national unemployment rate for December stands at a 16-year high of 7.2 percent.

Layoffs in manufacturing, construction and retail contributed to the disheartening numbers for Indiana.

Of more immediate concern for Turner was Marshall County's 12 percent unemployment rate. Starke County at 11.5 percent is seventh highest in Indiana. The 12 percent number in Marshall County is actually not as bad as some had feared it might be.

"We have at least 2,400 workers that commute to Elkhart county to work in the RV industry," said Turner. "Elkhart is one of the biggest manufacturing counties in the state and when they have a problem, we are going to have a problem, too."

The new figures don't come as a surprise to those in Elkhart County. Hundreds of workers have lost their jobs at RV makers such as Monaco Coach Corp.Keystone RV Co. and Pilgrim International.

"No state in the country has experienced the collapse of the RV industry like we have," said Marc Lotter, a Department of Workforce Development spokesman. "I think it was a major driver in the increase."

Elkhart County's unemployment rate hit 15.3 percent in December - the highest in the state and a stark contrast from the county's 4.7 percent jobless rate a year earlier.

"I've had a lot of people in the RV industry tell me in the last week and a half that they think everything is going to rebound soon because it always has in the past," said Turner. "Economists don't agree on what's going to happen. Michael Hicks at Ball State says he thinks there will be a uniform rebound this year but Joseph Stiglitz at Colombia says this is going to be a more long term kind of thing. I hope Hicks is right but I'm going to plan and work as if Stiglitz is."
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