Hennepin 4th of July Celebration

IV Unemployment Rate Reaching Pre-Recession Levels

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
The Illinois Valley unemployment rate is reaching pre-recession levels, but it’s not because there are more jobs in the area.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate is at 6.5 percent for the tri-county area, one of the lowest totals in the past five years.

A shrinking labor force has resulted in the decline of the unemployment rate, as the number of jobs in the area has stayed relatively flat. The labor force dropped from a peak of about 86,000 potential workers in 2010 to 77,000 currently. During that same span the number of jobs went from 76,000 to 73,000.

But what impact does that have on the work force in the Illinois Valley?

Still hunting for jobs skills
While the labor force might be shrinking, the number of people looking to gain work skills has not. Pam Furlan, executive director with the Business Employment Skills Team, said BEST has had as many clients as ever.

“I’m not sure we’ve seen a decline. I think we’ve seen an increase in the number of people that are looking for training,” she said. “In that sense I think we might be working against the trend.”

More people underemployed?
The Illinois Valley typically has average wages lower than the national average. With a lower cost of living in the area compared to an urban setting, people do not need to make as much money.

However, the result might mean some are settling for positions and underutilizing their job training.

“Though the unemployment rate is lower, we feel a lot of people in the area might be underemployed. They’re taking jobs they might be overqualified for so they can make ends meet,” said Jennifer Scheri with the Business and Training Center at Illinois Valley Community College. “Because of that we feel that the unemployment number is deceiving, unfortunately.”

Need For manufacturing
At American Nickeloid in Peru, a majority of employees were near retirement age, according to a recent NewsTribune story. That trend is not uncommon across the area.

“They’re certainly not alone. We hear that all across the region and not just in manufacturing, but in all sectors where age can be a factor,” Furlan said.

And IVCC is aware of this trend. Scheri said local business have reached out to the school to promote more people going into skilled trades.

“We’re getting a lot of requests for training people in manufacturing,” Scheri said. “There is a great shortage of skilled workers in maintenance and electrical. It’s not because of the creation of new jobs but because of the high number of retirees.”

Adam Pacholski, the general manager at Aqua Control Inc. in Spring Valley said the problem might be replacing experience, instead of just replacing workers.

“We can find new people to work, but it’s replacing the 20 years of experience a worker has,” he said.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Even breaking down the labor force to the three-county area can be problematic because different cities are all doing different things for job creation.

The city of Peru continues to grab the attention of different retail stores, which Peru’s economic development director Bob Vickery said retail sales have toped $600 million in the past 12 months.

“Retail leads the way for us for sure,” he said. “I think Peru is going against the labor force trend in the area and if you controlled it specifically to our area code, you would likely see job creation. What’s good for one is good for all.”

Communities like Utica heavily promote the tourism industry, and the village of Hennepin has a vast space open for industry.

“You really need to look at all sectors. You can’t ignore anything, whether it’s tourism, retail or industry. You have to have a balance,” said Debb Ladgenski, coordinator for the newly formed Economic Development Council of North Central Illinois and Spring Valley economic development director.

Source: News Tribune