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The Chicago region is home to a diverse economy in which no single industry dominates. Tracking the region's overall productivity, employment levels, and personal income provides insight into the resiliency of the region's economy and the well-being of its residents.  

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Real Median Household Income

What
The income of the 50th percentile of all households in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area (MSA), in 2013 dollars.

Why it matters
The estimated median household income in the Chicago MSA was $60,564 in 2013 -- higher than the estimated national median household income of $52,250.  Since 1989, real median household income has declined by 7.1 percent in the region and by 7.5 percent nationwide.  Real median income has also fallen in Boston and Los Angeles.

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Trends in Median Household Income

Real median household income is a metric commonly used to measure the well-being of a region's middle class. The statistic measures the reported earnings of a hypothetical household in the 50th percentile of all households in the region. Since the statistic is adjusted for inflation, it allows for the comparison of the true well-being of the "average" household across time. Higher median household incomes generally indicate prosperous economies and more disposable income for residents to spend. As median household income rises, residents are considered better off.

Real median household income data have been collected on an annual basis since 2005 via the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.  Prior to 2005, median household income data were collected every ten years through the decennial census. In 1989, real median household income was $56,476 nationally and $65,198 in the Chicago metropolitan area. Household income had risen in both Chicago and nationwide by 1999, but has since fallen back below 1989 levels. As of 2013, median household income in the Chicago metropolitan area was $60,564 and $52,250 nationwide.

Median Household Income Changes among Metropolitan Areas

The decline of real median household incomes nationwide may be symptomatic of broad struggles in the economic well-being of U.S. households.  The introductory graph shows that since 1989, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles have experienced declines in real median household income, while incomes in Washington, D.C. and New York have increased.  Between 1989-2013, Los Angeles experienced the largest decline in median household income, dropping by 9.7 percent, followed by Chicago, which experienced a 7.1 percent decline in household income.  New York, which has experienced a net increase in median household income of 5.7 percent, is unusual compared to its peers and the national average.  Part of its increase may be attributed to demographic shifts and some changes in the metropolitan statistical area's geographic boundary.  In 2013, Washington, D.C. joined New York in exceeding its 1989 real median household income level. 

Despite overall declines in median household income since 1989, the Chicago region's median household income still exceeds the national average.  Among all metropolitan areas in the U.S., the Chicago MSA had the 42nd highest median household income in 2013.  The two highest median household income MSAs were San Jose ($91,533) and Washington, D.C. ($90,149).  Among its peers, Chicago's median household income exceeds that of Los Angeles, but lags behind Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York

About the Data

Income data are collected and reported by the U.S. Census Bureau via the decennial census and American Community Survey.  MSA geography boundaries for 1989 and 1999 may differ slightly from American Community Survey MSA boundaries.  Data include income generated by all individuals in each household age 15 and up.  Data are adjusted to 2013 dollars using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) calculated by geographic region or metropolitan area where available. The current Chicago metropolitan statistical area encompasses 14 counties, including Kenosha County in southeast Wisconsin and several counties in northwest Indiana.

Updated in September 2014 with American Community Survey data for 2013.

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Real Gross Regional Product

What
The annual value of all goods and services produced within the Chicago metropolitan statistical area (MSA), reported in 2009 chained dollars.

Why it matters
In 2013, the region's real gross regional product (GRP) was approximately $551 billion.  Since 2001, real GRP growth in Chicago has lagged behind growth rates in Washington, D.C., Boston, Los Angeles, and New York. 

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Chicago Real Gross Regional Product

The Chicago region's real gross regional product (GRP) output grew between 2001-07 before experiencing a substantial decline between 2007-09 during the most recent recession.  Real GRP peaked at $554 billion in 2007, and then fell to under $520 billion by 2009. From 2009-13, real GRP recovered and grew at a rate of roughly 1.5 percent annually.  In 2013 the region's real GRP reached $551 billion, roughly $3 billion short of the region's 2007 pre-recession GRP peak.

Metropolitan Trends in GRP Growth

Real GRP growth trends in other metropolitan areas show that, since 2001, Chicago's regional economy has grown at a slower pace than many of its peers.  The following chart shows real GRP growth in Chicago's peer metropolitan areas, normalizing GRP to 100 in 2001 to emphasize year-over-year changes on a similar scale for peer metropolitan areas.

Between 2001-07, the region's real GRP grew by 8.9 percent, which was slower than growth in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. The impact of the most recent recession was varied among peer metropolitan economies, but appeared especially pronounced in Los Angeles and Chicago, which are home to the first and second largest manufacturing clusters in the U.S.  Between 2009-13, real GRP in the Chicago metropolitan area grew by a total of 6.1 percent.  

About the Data

Data presented show "real" GRP, which adjusts totals to count for the effects of inflation on purchasing power, allowing for equal comparison between different years. GRP statistics are reported by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on an annual basis and are reported in 2009 chained dollars.  Data show real GRP values for metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Chicago metropolitan statistical area encompasses 14 counties, including Kenosha County in southeast Wisconsin and several counties in northwest Indiana.

Updated in September 2014.

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Total Jobs

What
The total number of full- and part-time jobs within the Chicago metropolitan statistical area (MSA).

Why it matters
Growing job counts in the region indicate that Chicago-area businesses are hiring and that the region's economy is growing. There are currently an estimated 4.7 million jobs in the region.  This total is less than the region's pre-recession jobs peak of 4.8 million in 2007; however, initial data suggest that 2014 will be the fourth straight year for which the region's total job count has grown. 

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Regional Trends in Employment

The number of jobs in the Chicago region has closely mirrored national economic trends.  Total jobs decreased slightly during the early 2000s recession then experienced moderate growth until 2007 when the region was home to an estimated 4.8 million positions.  The recent recession resulted in a loss of roughly 340,000 jobs in the region with total jobs bottoming out in 2010.  The total number of jobs in the region has rebounded since then but has yet to reach pre-recession levels. 

While the number of jobs in the region is increasing, the available data do not indicate the quality or average pay of jobs created.  Total job counts may increase from newly created part-time, low-wage jobs or the creation of good-paying full-time jobs. Measuring total jobs provides a high-level perspective on the health of employment in the region.

About the Data

Total jobs data are reported by EMSI and are primarily based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, and EMSI proprietary sources.  Data report the sum of full- and part-time positions.  Data show the job count for the Chicago MSA, which encompasses 14 counties, including Kenosha County in southeast Wisconsin and several counties in northwest Indiana.

Updated in September 2014 with EMSI data based on the first half of 2014. 

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Unemployment

What
The percentage of labor force participants who are currently unemployed.  The labor force is comprised of those who have jobs and are working, plus those who are not employed and have actively sought work in the past four weeks.  

Why it matters
In 2013, the unemployment rate in the Chicago metropolitan statistical area (MSA) was 9.1 percent, which was higher than both the national average of 7.4 percent and higher than rates in peer regions such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C. The unemployment rate is a key measure of metropolitan economic vitality. It provides insight into the health of a metropolitan labor markets and allows for easy regional and national comparisons.

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Trends in Unemployment

The unemployment rate in the Chicago metropolitan area closely mirrors national rates.  During the early 1990s, unemployment in the region exceeded national averages; it then dipped below the national average between 1994-99.  Unemployment in the region exceeded the national average between 2000-06 and has continued to exceed the national average between 2009-13.  

Unemployment Compared to Peer Regions

In recent years the unemployment rate in the Chicago region has been consistently higher than rates in peer regions like Washington, D.C. or Boston, but generally lower than unemployment rates in Los Angeles (although the 2013 unemployment rate for Chicago is now higher than Los Angeles).  Historic unemployment levels in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston converged in 2006 near the national average of 4.6 percent.  The impact of the latest recession on employment in each metropolitan area has been varied.  Unemployment rates increased substantially more in the Chicago region than in Boston or Washington, D.C., but were less than the respective increases seen in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

About the Data

Unemployment levels are tracked by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Annual unemployment rates are calculated using the average of all twelve monthly metropolitan unemployment rate estimates.  People who have lost their job and become discouraged about the prospect of finding work and have not looked for employment in the last four weeks are not considered part of the labor force and are not counted in unemployment estimates.  Due to the length of the recent economic downturn, some controversy has arisen over unemployment rate metrics since the measure does not include discouraged persons.  Data show unemployment rates for metropolitan statistical areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  The Chicago metropolitan statistical area encompasses 14 counties, including Kenosha County in southeast Wisconsin and several counties in northwest Indiana.

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