Illinois employment outlook is worst in region, report says

  • By EMILY UDELL
  • Medill News Service
  • February 06, 2006 @ 5:45 AM
Already hit with high heating, housing and transportation costs, Illinois' workers are facing a bleak future in the changing labor marketplace, a new study shows.

The state's employment outlook is the worst in the Midwest region and one of the worst in the nation, according to the 2006 Report on Illinois Poverty released Thursday.

"Clearly Illinois has prided itself on being the economic engine of the Midwest, but this report shows that our engine is running out of steam," said Sid Mohn, president of Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, the organization that produced the report.

Loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs in Illinois is part of the reason the state has seen median household income plummet at three times the rate of the national average, the report shows.

The report cites figures from a number of organizations and reports, including the 2005 State of Working Illinois, which was put out by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Northern Illinois University. That study, for example, found that since 1990, the state has lost 24.3 percent of its manufacturing jobs. That amounts to 222,500 manufacturing jobs, which have been replaced with mostly low-paying service sector jobs.

Dan Swinney, executive director of Chicago's Center for Labor and Community Research, says the loss of manufacturing jobs will have a ripple effect on Illinois' economy and influence employment prospects in other sectors.

"Manufacturing has the most dynamic impact on economy of any other sector," Swinney said. "If you allow manufacturing to decline, it almost guarantees that you have a highly polarized society."

Nearly a quarter of Illinois workers earn less than $9.28 per hour, which would put a single-income family of four at the federal poverty level, the report says.

"The good news is that the poor in Illinois are working, the bad news is that they are still poor," Mohn said.

Across the state, some 500,000 working families are not making enough to make ends meet.

Black and Latino workers are suffering the most in Illinois' current employment landscape. The wage gap between white and Hispanic workers has grown nearly 24 percent, while the wage gap between white and black workers has widended dramatically, growing 162 percent from 1980 to 2004.

The State of Working Illinois study documents huge income disparities between Blacks and Whites in the state; 71.1 percent of Blacks earn less than $50,000 per year, compared to 60.5 percent of Hispanics and 36.2 percent of Whites.

Since 2001, the state has experienced a negative job growth rate of 3.7 percent while the number of working age Illinoisans has grown by 2 percent, according to the poverty report.

Illinois ranked third in number of unemployment insurance claims due to mass layoffs last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. This year the state has already heard announcements of layoffs from Ford Motor Co., Kraft Foods and Maytag.

The poverty study was released in the wake of the U.S. House's narrow approval of a budget bill that will save nearly $40 billion through cuts to programs like Medicaid, student loans and welfare.

Illinois has already seen funding for human services decrease by $387 million over the last four years, according to the study, and Mohn says he worries that the new cuts will only exacerbate Illinois' continuing poverty problem.

"There are minimal signs [of hope] on our dismal horizon," Mohn said. "But solutions will not happen without new revenue sources."

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