October 1, 2014
By Michael Lucci

This article was featured on Herald Review on October 1, 2014. 

Although Decatur’s unemployment rate is dropping dramatically, the area has failed to create new jobs over the last several years.

The category called non-farm payroll jobs decreased 8.2 percent between January 2008 and July 2014, a loss of about 4,500 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ business survey. Rockford is the only Illinois metropolitan area with a slower recovery from the recession.

However, the Decatur unemployment rate in July had the largest over-the-year rate decrease in the country, falling 3.5 percentage points from 13 percent to 9.5 percent.

The business survey and the unemployment data are collected separately, which partially explains why the unemployment rate can fall while jobs decline. The unemployment rate is also based on people actively looking for work, so it doesn’t include job seekers who move out of the area or simply give up.

There’s not a lot of value in assessing blame for what’s already happened, but the Decatur situation is something of a perfect storm. “Decatur was one of the hardest-hit cities in the hardest-hit state,” Michael Lucci, director of the Illinois Policy Institute said. “On both surveys, Illinois is dead last among all 50 states with recovering from the recession.”

There does appear to be good news on the horizon.

The Midwest Inland Port, which could become a center for logistics, appears to be on its way to creating some results. In addition, the new owners of the PPG plant near Mount Zion visited Decatur yesterday to outline their plans for operating the plant at a fuller capacity. That will mean more jobs.

In addition, pharmaceutical manufacturer Akorn Inc., recently invited the public to visit its newly-remodeled facilities after more than doubling its employment level in the past few year. United Iron Works is also seeking approval for a project that would add 25 jobs.

Although we can all hold out hope for the big win, such as a new business that instantly adds 100 jobs, that isn’t likely to happen. Decatur area job growth will most likely happen with smaller additions to the work force by existing businesses and the creation of new businesses.

Helping new businesses is one area where the state needs to improve. Illinois as a state is tough on new businesses, often discouraging the kind of entrepreneurship that results in job growth over time. Illinois policy makers need to understand that needless regulations, fees and taxes are part of the reason the state has not recovered from the recession as quickly as other states.

It’s also important for the Decatur area to face reality. While a lower unemployment rate is welcome, the real focus has to be on creating more jobs.

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TAGS: Decatur, jobs, unemployment