Making sense of Illinois’ jobs outlook isn’t exactly easy these days. So says an economist from Northern Illinois University. There’s information that says the state still lags behind the national economic recovery. But there are also occasional nuggets of good news to consider.
NIU economist Jeremy Groves says imagine Illinois’ jobs market and its underlying economy as one large engine. But not your standard engine.
“It’s not like the old model-T, where you can pull out one part and stick in another part and everything’s fine.”
Instead of the old model-T, he says comparing Illinois’ situation to a car engine should go more like this:
“It’s kind of like trying to cobble together a car engine from a bunch of different makes and models,” Groves said.
So when you lift the hood, there might be some smoke coming out, and you might end up scratching your head on trying to get a read on where things stand.
Key diagnostic test
This we know: Illinois’ jobless rate of 8.6 percent is third highest in the nation. The state typically lags behind a national economic recovery, but Groves says this time it’s different.
“If you look at numbers that go back to the recession, Illinois saw a massive loss of jobs,” Groves said.
Groves adds that it hasn’t been a uniform recovery for Illinois. He says some sectors of the state’s economy have rebounded, while others haven’t.
During his recent State of the State address, Governor Pat Quinn, as expected, tried to put a shine on things by pointing out that Illinois’ unemployment rate is at its lowest level in five years. Quinn also made this point.
“Since last May, Illinois has led the Midwest in new jobs created,” Quinn said.
Republican lawmakers, like Rockford Senator Dave Syverson, complained that the governor ignored the reality of the situation facing Illinois.
“It’s okay to talk about how rosy things are. But, unfortunately, employers and those who are unemployed or underemployed don’t quite see it that way,” Syverson said.
While there is some truth behind what Quinn is saying about Illinois’ job statistics, Syverson and others say the state should be doing much better. They say when you take a closer look at some of the data, Illinois isn’t doing as well as neighboring states like Wisconsin and Indiana. And Moody’s Analytics projects Illinois will be dead last in the nation when it comes to job growth this year.
For his part, the governor did say the state has a long way to go in its recovery. His staff has stressed that point in the days following the speech. However, they say there is also good news to share. Quinn’s office highlighted a study that says Illinois is third in the nation when it comes to new business establishments.
Piecing it all together
Jeremy Groves says much like a car engine built with different parts from different models, all this information equates to one giant mixed-bag. He says growth in new firms is good, but the check-engine light is sending a warning.
“If you have one firm that has 10 employees close, five of those employees start their own firms. And that’s a net gain of four firms. But five people are still unemployed, so we still have a net loss in jobs,” Groves said.
On the flip-side, Groves says while Illinois is experiencing painfully slow job growth when compared to some other states, it’s doing things like adding quality jobs.
“A lot of the new jobs that Illinois has created have been good, quality, high-paying jobs. And in the long-run that’s going to be beneficial,” Groves said.
And that type of maintenance might help to get Illinois’ economic engine roaring again.