July 28, 2014
By Michael Lucci

Since the Great Recession began, Illinois’ workforce participation has dropped more than that of any other state in the Midwest. That means that working-age Illinoisans have given up and left the workforce more rapidly than in surrounding states.

A full 3.9 percent of Illinois’ adult population has quit the workforce since January 2008.

The state’s workforce participation rate is now at its lowest level since July 1979, when women were far less likely to be a part of the workforce.


Workers dropping out of the workforce explains Illinois’ plunging unemployment rate. When workers quit looking for work, they are no longer counted as unemployed.

In fact, over the last three months, more than 46,000 Illinoisans gave up on looking for work. In June alone, a record 21,600 Illinoisans quit the workforce – the largest monthly drop in state history.

Since the Great Recession began, Illinois’ workforce has shrunk by nearly 200,000 people.


During the same time period, Illinois’ working-age population grew by nearly 300,000 people. So although there are more working-age adults in Illinois, fewer are finding it worthwhile to search for work.


This collapse in labor-force participation makes Illinois’ unemployment rate look better, but it has a terrible effect on the state economy. Workers who give up looking for work aren’t able to sharpen their skills, let alone take that next step up the ladder of opportunity.

Illinois’ stands alone in the Midwest for having raised taxes during the recovery from the Great Recession. Since the historic tax hike, Illinois job creation has slowed down by one-third. Meanwhile, the rest of the Midwest has accelerated in job creation.

State leadership needs to admit the mistakes of the past, and allow the 2011 tax hike to expire. For Illinois to regain its greatness in the Midwest, the state needs a lower tax burden, structural tax reform, a regulatory overhaul and a more hospitable environment to foster entrepreneurship.