Ep. 45: The truth about Pritzker and Lightfoot’s economic record

Ep. 45: The truth about Pritzker and Lightfoot’s economic record

Gov. Pritzker and Mayor Lightfoot are out on national and international tours, respectfully, touting their recent economic wins. But Illinoisans left at home face a dire jobs market: 1 in 6 jobs lost during COVID are still missing in Chicago and Illinois. Bryce Hill joins the Policy Shop to discuss the state’s economy and what it means for large and small businesses alike.

Host: Hilary Gowins, Senior Vice President at the Illinois Policy Institute
Guest: Bryce Hill, Director of Fiscal and Economic Research at the Illinois Policy Institute

This edition of The Policy Shop is written by Bryce Hill, director of fiscal and economic research at the Illinois Policy Institute.

If you follow our state political leaders on their recent travels, you’d think things are rosy in Illinois’ job market. But no matter the spin, the facts tell a different story.

Lightfoot in Paris, Pritzker’s “Florida Fling”: Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s in Paris, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s campaigning in D.C., speaking at New Hampshire conferences and trekking down to Florida touting Illinois’ economic recovery. The headline “Chicago Mayor Lightfoot in Europe touting city’s ‘thriving economy’ as businesses flee city” pretty much speaks for itself, but what is the mayor actually claiming?

“Chicago’s economy is thriving, and our business sector has set records, keeping us competitive with top global financial cities,” Lightfoot stated in a press release highlighting her trip to London and Paris last week. “Chicago’s economy is thriving and poised to have the best economic recovery of any big city in the country.”

It’s all about jobs: Here’s the full picture of the jobs front, according to the latest data. Illinois’ employment recovery continued in May, but the state is still lagging the nation. Illinois added 12,800 jobs from mid-April through mid-May, marking one year of consecutive monthly job gains. However, the state’s unemployment rate of 4.6% remains the highest in the Midwest and the fifth-highest nationally. Just eight of the 15 metro areas that contain parts of Illinois experienced job growth in May, according to data recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Chicago-Naperville-Arlington Heights metro area saw the largest increase in raw numbers, adding 13,200 jobs – driving up the state average. But this doesn’t translate to the “thriving economy” Lightfoot and other officials are claiming.

Chicago is still missing 1 out of every 6 jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic. The same is true at the state level.

Business exodus: Businesses are struggling here at home and inflation continues to eat away at financial resources. We've all seen headlines about the big boys leaving the state – Citadel, Caterpillar and Boeing – for reasons ranging from crime to taxes to the cost of running a business. U.S. Steel is cutting up to 1,000 jobs and selling parts of its Granite City plant. (We offered ideas on how to prevent U.S. Steel job cuts back in 2015 ... commonsense policy solutions could've prevented things like this from happening.)

Small businesses getting hammered by inflation, rising costs: Employers are feeling the pinch, as Mario Conforti, a deli owner in Oakbrook Terrace explains:

“Inflation has definitely been our biggest challenge for the last 18 months or so. Prices have been going up on everything. Pretty much every few months, prices are different rates on our end. It’s frustrating for us when we have to raise prices because we like to take pride in our prices. People complain, but you have to pass the prices on."

“Tax and fee hikes are really tough for small businesses like us. Our margins are pretty tight, so tax hikes hit us the hardest. It’s definitely been a tough challenge.”

No more tax hikes: The first step to stop the bleeding and reverse the state’s current trajectory will be for voters to take a hard look at Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. Amendment 1 would guarantee tax hikes. The amendment would change the Illinois Constitution to grant unions more extreme powers than they have in any other state. Should Amendment 1 pass, Illinois’ $313 billion pension debt will continue to balloon as state and local taxes, which are already among the highest in the nation, rise in an attempt to keep up. Another move that will help? Correcting Pritzker’s decision to double Illinois' gas tax in 2019. Eliminating that annual tax hike instead of temporarily halting another increase would certainly provide much-needed relief.

Bottom line: Our state politicos need to face up to our problems because we're all feeling the pain, workers and employers alike. And what people care about most is tackling high gas prices and inflation.

Give the people what they want: Namely, relief. Temporarily stalling another gas tax hike (after Pritzker doubled the state gas tax in 2019) and suspending grocery taxes until after the election ain’t gonna cut it.

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