A smaller fraction of Illinoisans are able to find work today than at any time in the last 28 years. Since the Great Recession, the number of people working has fallen more dramatically in the Prairie State than in any other state in the country.
Not all Illinois demographic groups have shared equally in this tragedy.
According to conventional wisdom, Illinois’ weak labor market is a result of baby boomers retiring and dropping out of the workforce. However, the opposite is true. The employment rate, which measures the proportion of a population that is working, tells the real story.
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security the employment rate for older Illinoisans has actually gone up over the course of the recession. This likely indicates delayed retirement for older workers.
The employment rate for prime-working-age adults, on the other hand, has fallen significantly – dropping more than 4 percentage points from 2006-2013.
The youth employment rate has been hit most dramatically, suffering an 8 percentage point decline during the same time period.
Not only are younger workers bearing an undue burden – minorities are too. The employment rate has fallen by nearly 9 percentage points for Latino men and by more than 10 percentage points for black men, the worst of any demographic group. Fewer than half of all adult black men in Illinois are working, as of 2013.
What is ailing Illinois’ economy is not the retirement of older workers, it’s the lack of opportunity for younger workers. That lack of opportunity is especially felt in minority communities.