Illinois has worst youth employment in Midwest, biggest drop amid COVID-19 pandemic

Illinois has worst youth employment in Midwest, biggest drop amid COVID-19 pandemic

With small businesses and seasonal attractions closed, most of Illinois’ youth find themselves spending a summer without a job. COVID-19 isn’t the only reason, however.

Fewer Illinois teens found jobs last spring than any of their Midwestern peers, but this April and May was worse with over 40% fewer of them working mainly because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Only 15.9% of Illinoisans ages 16 to 19 were working in April and May – just 1 in 7 young people. This means Illinois has the lowest youth employment rate in the Midwest and 10th lowest in the nation.

That 40.4% drop in teen employment between 2019 and 2020 was the highest in the Midwest and 11th highest in the nation.

According to research by the Illinois Policy Institute, the drop in Illinois’ youth employment rate was almost entirely a result of COVID-19. Nearly 1 in 3 Illinoisans age 16-19 would have a job if not for the pandemic and associated lockdown measures. While still behind the rest of the region, that’s more than double the current employment rate.

When the payroll had to be cut as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, Randy Miles said his teen workers were out of work at Village Inn Pizzeria in Skokie, Illinois.

“I have a pizza place so I have kids who work for me who live with their parents,” Miles said. “So I tried to retain all the employees who had kids, single moms and singles that needed to pay rent.”

Illinois policies that most often hurt adults should also be blamed for poor youth employment in Illinois. Specifically, a rising minimum wage that has jumped by $1.75 in the past six months makes it harder for high school and college students to find work.

Teenagers are heavily relied upon to work minimum wage jobs. As the wage increases to $15 during the next five years, businesses will be forced to cut these positions, leaving ever fewer opportunities for Illinois’ youth to work.

On July 1, Illinois’ minimum wage became the highest among neighboring states at $10 an hour. States with lower minimum wages can more easily afford to keep their teens working, regardless of pandemic restrictions.

Future policies could also make it more difficult for businesses to hire young workers. If voters approve a progressive income tax amendment Nov. 3, tax rates will increase by up to 47% on more than 100,000 small businesses.

“Operating this business is a challenge, with the added burden of minimum wage hikes, all the additional taxes that have been implemented, and the concern of the possibility of a progressive income tax coming our way,” said Melanie McCullough, owner of Bradford Snack Shack.

“Do I want to keep on climbing all these mountains? Not really. But will I? Yes. Because we provide a service to our community and because we provide jobs for our employees.”

COVID-19 restrictions continued hurting all Illinois workers, with an additional 38,897 initial unemployment claims filed for the week ending July 4. The brings the total in Illinois to 1.42 million since the pandemic started hitting the economy.

Creating job opportunities raises up all Illinoisans, but can be especially important for teens.

Extended bouts of youth unemployment lower future earnings. Just six months of teen unemployment can cost that worker about $22,000 during the next 10 years. Jobless teens are also more likely to experience unemployment later in life, suffer higher crime and incarceration rates and see negative consequences for mental and physical health. Teens without jobs lose an opportunity to put experience on a resume, learn valuable skills that can be applied later and earn money that can be saved for their educations.

Teens may not be as mobile as the prime working-age adults driving the Illinois exodus, but the same high-tax, anti-business climate that is driving out those older workers is costing teens jobs and reasons to stay when they begin careers. Pushing a job-killing progressive income tax atop rapid minimum wage hikes will further alienate those who should become the future workforce of Illinois.

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