Women driving Illinois’ labor market recovery

Women driving Illinois’ labor market recovery

Illinois’ labor market has heated up, gaining 40,900 jobs in October. It was the largest increase in 2021 as women, especially minority women, returned to work

In August 2020, an Illinois Policy Institute analysis predicted Illinois employment would fail to return to pre-pandemic levels unless women returned to the workforce. The pandemic business and school closures had disproportionately hurt working women, especially minorities, so those who left in greater numbers would be crucial for the recovery.

Now more than a year later, it is indeed Illinois’ women, and especially minority women, who are driving the state’s employment recovery.

Of the net increase in employment during the past year, 96% was because of jobs filled by women and 75% of those women were minorities.

Preliminary data shows Illinois labor market beats expectations in October

Illinois has now experienced 10 consecutive months of employment growth, but at a slower pace than the rest of the country.

Illinois added 40,900 jobs from mid-September through mid-October, according to preliminary data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. 

The only job sectors to lose were the information sector and the educational and health sector.

The top sector for job seekers was the professional and business services, which grew the most at 17,700 (+1.94%) payroll jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector continued its post-lockdown recovery by gaining 8,400 (+1.63%) jobs; trade, transportation and utilities grew by 7,700 (+0.6%); and financial activities created 3,100 new jobs (+0.78%).

What’s driving Illinois’ recovery?

While the pandemic and public health measures disproportionately hurt them, women are now driving the state’s recovery. The labor force participation rate of prime working-age Illinois women increased while labor force participation among men decreased during the past year, according to data from the Current Population Survey.

From October 2020 to October 2021, Illinois employment grew by 190,300 jobs, with 65% of those jobs created in the past five months.  The change in employment has been mostly driven by minority women.

During the past year, employment among men increased by 7,205 jobs on net compared to 183,095 jobs going to women, with 75% of those jobs going to minority women. The largest increase in employment was among Hispanic women.

Women make up 96% of the net increase in employment when compared to a year ago.


The end of lockdown restrictions and expanded unemployment benefits, as well as the increased child tax credit and reopening of schools for in-person learning, all were likely major contributors to increased participation by and employment of women.

Despite strong employment growth in recent months, Illinois’ economy is still missing 286,700 jobs relative to pre-pandemic levels and battling one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. In order to ensure a full economic recovery, Illinois must continue to pull those who were disproportionately affected by COVID-19 job losses back into the workforce.

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