Illinois trails national average

Illinois trails national average

There's good — and bad — news about the employment picture in the nation and Illinois.

As has been the case for months now, the national unemployment numbers present a mixed picture.

On the surface, they're good, almost encouraging. But a deeper examination shows just how far the lagging economic recovery has to go.

The U.S. Labor Department recently announced that the March unemployment rate has fallen to 4.5 percent, the lowest levels in a decade. At the same time, it disclosed that the labor force participation rate — the percentage of people who could be working — stands at a disappointing 63 percent.

Among those marginally attached to the work force are 5.6 million people who are working part-time but would prefer to be working full-time. There are another 1.6 million people who are not in the labor force but want to be and are looking for employment.

Most disappointing are the 460,000 discouraged workers who are not looking for work because, according to the Labor Department, "they believe no jobs are available to them."

As also has been the case for months, Illinois trails the national averages, another sign that this state needs to improve its economic climate.

The Illinois unemployment rate fell by 0.5 percent, but still remains above the national average at 4.9 percent.

The numbers gave state economic officials another reason to push for legislative policy changes to encourage the kind of economic growth that would help the state equal or exceed national employment numbers.

"Illinois payrolls weakened in March just like they did for the nation. The usual pattern is that Illinois weakens more than the nation but grows less than the national average when both are on the upswing. This persistent lag in growth explains why it took 10 years to push the unemployment rate below 5 percent," said Jeff Mays, the director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

There's another statistic that better describes Illinois' halting economic growth as it relates to the jobs picture. Illinois is still 19,600 jobs short of "reaching its prior peak employment reached in September 2000."

That was four governors ago. George Ryan was the state's chief then. Since he left, the people of Illinois have elected Rod Blagojevich, Pat Quinn and, now, Bruce Rauner plus hundreds of members to the state House and Senate.

The bank and real-estate crashes of 2008-09 knocked the national economy for a loop. But most states have recovered at a far faster pace than Illinois.

While Illinois' unemployment rate stands at 4.9 percent, that number is hardly uniform across its 102 counties.

Those county-by-county numbers demonstrate that times are harder in some places than others.

February county-by-county numbers (March statistics are not yet available) show that Champaign and McLean counties have unemployment rates of 4.9 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, the number is Vermilion County is 7.2 percent.

Cook County had an employment rate of 5.3 percent while Lake, DuPage and Will — three collar counties — had rates of 5.7 percent, 4.1 percent and 5.5 percent. At the same time, eight small counties at the bottom of the state near Kentucky had unemployment rates ranging from 7.1 percent (Massac) to 9.2 percent (Hardin).

The U.S. economy must generate about 200,000 jobs a month to accommodate new people entering the work force. President Trump, like all of his successors, wants to expand the economy at an even faster rate to further reduce unemployment numbers.

The economy produced more than 200,000 jobs during his first month in office, but just 98,000 in his second.

Neither presidents nor governors, of course, create jobs. That's strictly a private-sector issue. But they, along with members of Congress and the state legislatures, establish conditions in which individuals create new businesses and existing business expand.

The more people who work, the better off they are and the better off the government is in terms of revenues collected and social welfare spending reduced.

It's win-win all around.

Congress needs to get busy on a variety of issues, including infrastructure spending and corporate tax reform. Illinois needs to reduce unemployment compensation costs to encourage new businesses to move here and existing ones to expand.

Unemployment numbers are headed in the right direction. But there's still a long way to go, especially with the labor force participation rate.

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