The Policy Shop: The Illinoisans that Springfield is leaving behind

The Policy Shop: The Illinoisans that Springfield is leaving behind

This episode of The Policy Shop is by Bryce Hill, director of fiscal and economic research

Illinois’ unemployment rate for Black workers last year was No. 2 in the U.S.

Black Illinoisans faced average unemployment rates of 9.6% in 2023, compared to 5.5% for Black workers nationwide. That means Black Illinoisans were 75% more likely to be unemployed.

Not only were Black Illinoisans much more likely than their peers in other states to experience unemployment, the white-Black employment gap was also substantially larger in Illinois than in the rest of the nation. The Black unemployment rate in Illinois was 2.6 times higher than the white unemployment rate, while nationally, the average Black unemployment rate was 1.7 times higher than the white unemployment rate.

That is not because white Illinoisans are doing substantially better – their unemployment rates are still higher than the national average. It is because Black Illinoisans are doing so much worse than their peers elsewhere.

When ranked among all states with available data, Illinois’ Black unemployment rate is the second highest in the nation. Only Kentucky is worse.

It’s the same for both Black men and women in Illinois, who faced identical unemployment rates of 9.6% in 2023. Illinois’ Black female unemployment rate was second highest in the nation while the Black male unemployment rate was No. 3.

The situation in Illinois is likely even worse than unemployment rates indicate. That’s because Black Illinoisans are the only racial or ethnic group in the state whose labor force participation rate was lower than the U.S. average in 2023. In other words, the true unemployment rate for Black Illinoisans is likely even higher, as many individuals have become discouraged by their prospects and simply quit trying to find a job.

While other Illinoisans fared better than Black Illinoisans, employment outcomes still ranked among the worse in the nation for many groups.

Illinois’ labor market has lagged the rest of the nation for decades, but Black workers have had it tougher. Even though Illinois employment is finally above January 2020 levels, the state’s unemployment rate has risen to 4.8% in the early months of 2024 –  third-highest in the nation – compared to the national rate of 3.9%.

Workers pay a penalty in the job market, just because they live in Illinois. That can change, but there needs to be the political will in Springfield to strengthen the state’s fiscal positionremove regulatory burdens and provide real tax relief.

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