Unemployment rate expected to keep shrinking

Resources remain for DeKalb County's unemployed

DeKALB – Workers at DeKalb's WorkNet Center miss the convenience of sharing space with the unemployment office.

Elaine Cozort, coordinator of adult learning and outreach services at Kiskwaukee College, said they still are providing job search assistance for people who need it. Kishwaukee College partners with the WorkNet Center at 1701 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb. It is the same location as the Illinois Department of Employment Security office that closed in March.

"A lot of people are surprised we're still here," Cozort said. "They thought we were closed."

Overall, statistics show things are looking up for the state's unemployed residents. The state economy is gaining about 6,000 jobs a month, compared with the 18,000 jobs Illinois was losing each month at the height of the recession, said Greg Rivara, Illinois Department of Employment Security spokesman.

Rivara attributes falling unemployment to an improved housing market, better debt ratios and increased consumer confidence – a factor helped by Congress' recent budget deal.

He said he sees no reason that those trends won't continue in 2014, helping to drive down unemployment, albeit gradually, while growing the economy.

"You'd anticipate that growth is going to continue," Rivara said.

Cozort said more local employers are dropping off blank applications at the center for visitors to complete.

Temporary positions are available at Aerotek, which services the recruiting and staffing needs for the aerospace and defense industry.

Other businesses hiring include the Hampton Inn under construction on Annie Glidden Road in DeKalb, IFCO Systems and Jackson-Hewitt.

Economist Fred Giertz, of the University of Illinois, agrees that unemployment should continue to drop in the coming year. But he tempered his enthusiasm.

As of November, Illinois unemployment was at 8.7 percent, fourth-highest in the country; the national rate was 7 percent. DeKalb County fares slightly better than the national average, with the unemployment rate at 6.9 percent in November.

"In essence, it's good news with where we are now, but it's not particularly good news with where we should be at this stage in an economic recovery," Giertz said.

Giertz said he expected that the national unemployment rate would drop below 7 percent, and that Illinois could dip below 8 percent, "if things go well."

Some think the figure could be affected since Congress didn't pass an extension to its long-term unemployment benefits program. Put into place in 2008, the benefits provided federal help to those unemployed for between 27 weeks and 73 weeks.

The final tier of benefits was cut out in Illinois, eliminating those unemployed for more than 63 weeks from the program, Rivara said.

Some national economists have projected that unemployment rates quickly will drop with the long-term benefits disappearing, as more people exit the labor force by simply giving up on finding work.

Rivara said his department hasn't done projections to that end in Illinois, where about 80,000 residents are receiving the benefits.

But Giertz said the drop in benefits could potentially force the unemployed to find jobs quicker.

"It's kind of like a tough-love situation," he said.

For now, Cozort is focusing on how things stand in DeKalb County, where there are a lot of jobs available in the service industry.

"We're encouraged just by the number of employers working with us," she said. "[Hiring will] gradually start to increase after the first of the year."

DeKalb County Unemployment Figures

Month        Percent

January      9.6

February    9.8

March   8.9

April   8.6

May 8.3

June           9.7

July           8.7

August    8.2

September  7.2

October    7.2

November    6.9

December    Figures will not be available until March.

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security