Illinois is steadily adding jobs lost during the COVID-19 economic downturn, but despite 10 months of gains the state recovery lags the nation. Some metropolitan areas are far behind where they were.
Illinois added 18,300 jobs from mid-February through mid-March, marking the 10th consecutive month of gains for the state, but it still lags the national recovery and is still missing 19% of the jobs it had before COVID-19 hit.
March jobs growth was spread across eight of the 15 metropolitan areas that contain parts of Illinois, according to data recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the largest numeric increase came from the Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metro area, which added 9,400 jobs, the largest percentage increase came from Kankakee, which grew payrolls by 0.47% or 200 jobs during the month.
Other metros to grow during the month were Lake County-Kenosha County, adding 1,700 jobs; Elgin grew payrolls by 500; Bloomington added 400 positions; while Springfield, Danville and Decatur job counts increased by 100 in March.
The Carbondale-Marion and Rockford metro area payrolls remained unchanged from February to March.
A handful of metro areas lost jobs during the month. Peoria lost 500 jobs, while Davenport-Moline-Rock Island payrolls shrank by 400; and Champaign-Urbana jobs declined by 200. March marked the second consecutive month of payroll declines in Champaign-Urbana, the only metro area to see consecutive declines during the past two months.
The St. Louis and Cape Girardeau metro areas – which are predominately located outside of Illinois – shed 1,300 jobs and 100 jobs, respectively.
Despite continued growth in payrolls as a whole, Illinois is still missing 154,500 jobs relative to pre-pandemic levels, with the missing jobs being spread across nearly every metro area. Bloomington is the only metro area in the state to recovery from early 2020 jobs losses.
Statewide, only 81% of 2020 job losses have been recouped since the recovery began, one of the lowest rates in the nation. However, some areas of the state have fared better than others. Springfield, Lake County-Kenosha County and Carbondale-Marion have each regained more than 90% of the jobs lost in early 2020. Cape Girardeau, Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights and Elgin are also outperforming the statewide recovery.
St. Louis, Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, Rockford, Peoria, Decatur, Champaign-Urbana, Danville and Kankakee are all trailing the Illinois recovery. The recovery has been particularly sluggish in Kankakee, which has only recovered 39% of 2020 job losses.
While it is clear Illinois’ uneven employment recovery severely lags the rest of the nation, what is far less clear is how the state can ever catch up. More than one-third of the workers who are still missing from Illinois’ workforce have likely retired. Making matters worse for Illinois, a record exodus driving population decline threatens to prevent the state’s economy from ever returning to pre-pandemic employment levels.
The first step to stop the bleeding and reverse the state’s current trajectory will be for voters to take a hard look at Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1 would change the Illinois Constitution to grant unions in Illinois more extreme powers than they have in any other state, including the ability to bargain over virtually limitless subjects, the ability to override state law through their contracts, and a guarantee that taxpayers and lawmakers would have an extremely difficult time reversing course.
Should Amendment 1 pass, Illinois’ $313 billion pension debt will continue to balloon as state and local taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation, rise in an attempt to keep up. Spending on vital programs will continue to fall. Illinois’ housing and labor markets are already suffering as high taxes and reduced services make finding a job and living in the state tenuous.
Illinois needs reform that will rein in the state’s cost drivers and deliver services to residents in exchange for their tax dollars. Amendment 1 ensures those challenges will increase.