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DeKalb County unemployment dips to 7.3 percent

DeKALB – The county’s unemployment rate slipped in November, but analysts worry the looming “fiscal cliff” could hurt that economic progress.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in DeKalb County dropped from 7.4 percent in October to 7.3 percent in November, according to data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security. In November 2011, the unemployment rate was 8.5 percent.

For the past 12 months, the county’s monthly unemployment rate has been better than the same month for the previous year.

“You can’t compare month-to-month and get a good sense of where the economy is going,” said IDES analyst Norman Kelewitz. The last time the November unemployment rate was equal to or lower than it is, it was in 2008, Kelewitz said.

Looking at the county’s labor force from month to month, the figure dropped about 1 percent from 60,129 people in October to 59,452 in November. The number of employed workers dropped about 1 percent from 55,663 to 55,092 during the same time frame. Both of those figures are better than the same time period last year. In the Chicago metro area – which includes DeKalb County – 33,700 jobs were added between November 2011 and 2012. In particular, Kelewitz highlighted professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and manufacturing as being areas that are doing well.

Manufacturing, Kelewitz said, can be a good indicator for how the economy is doing.

“That’s a sector affected by the business cycle,” Kelewitz said. “It’s a good sign that manufacturing is increasing. It’s not a sector like health care that seems to be growing for the last few years no matter what the business cycle is doing.”

Paul Borek, the executive director at the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, said several manufacturers have expanded their operations in the county recently.

In particular, he pointed to the construction of Right Pointe’s $1 million 33,000-square foot building in DeKalb, which is nearing completion. He also pointed to an expansion project undertaken by H.A. Phillips in DeKalb, which manufactures refrigeration systems for industrial clients.

But uncertainty about the country’s economic future could undo the recovery the United States has been making since the Great Recession, said IDES spokesman Greg Rivara. Without action from federal lawmakers, a series of tax increases and spending cuts will kick in with the new year.

About 90,000 of the 224,000 Illinois residents who collect unemployment benefits will lose them Saturday with the end of the federal program that extends the benefits period. Illinois residents will continue to receive 25 weeks of unemployment benefits through the state program.

“A combination of pulling these dollars out of the economy and the uncertainty that inaction would cause, especially to consumer confidence, could put the recovery at risk,” Rivara said.

On average, Illinois residents on unemployment receive $320 a week, Rivara said. Every dollar of unemployment benefits generates $1.63 in economic activity, which translates to about $522 a person, he said.

While the country’s political leaders continue to debate the “fiscal cliff,” Rivara recommended people go through a skills assessment, especially if they have been out of work for an extended period of time. A skills assessment allows a person to identify their skills.

“If someone has been out of work for two years, and they have not updated their skills, they will not be ready for today’s workplace,” Rivara said.

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