Unemployment has improved since this spring, but the ongoing pandemic and efforts to contain it may cause lasting damage to the region’s job market, with many workers at risk of permanently leaving the workforce. Unemployment in northeastern Illinois was 12.1 percent the week of August 12th, compared to 11.0 percent statewide and 8.5 percent nationally, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The official unemployment rate, however, reflects only individuals who are actively looking for work. It does not include the approximately 49,000 unemployed people who have left the region’s labor force entirely since mid-February. If it did, the seven-county region’s unemployment rate would be closer to 13.1 percent. Taken together, total employment here has declined by 413,000 workers since mid-February.
The region’s official unemployment rate has improved somewhat since its worst levels in April 2020, when it reached 17.2 percent. But this positive trend can obscure the number of people who are out of work, because of how the unemployment rate is constructed and the unique effects of this downturn.
Although the Chicago region actually lost jobs in July and August, this decline was smaller than the number of people who chose to leave the labor force entirely rather than seek other work. The pandemic has required some workers to drop out of the workforce to provide child and family care, forced some to take furloughs or early retirement, and left many others unable to work because they are at high risk for severe illness. The result is an apparent decrease in the unemployment rate without substantial improvement in the labor market.