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DeKalb County's unemployment jump is seasonal, analysts say

DeKALB – The end of the Christmas shopping season and decreased construction could be two of the reasons for the nearly 2 percentage-point jump in DeKalb County’s unemployment rate, employment analysts said.

DeKalb County’s unemployment rate went from 7.7 percent in December to 9.6 percent in January, according to preliminary data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

“That’s what occurs because of seasonal patterns,” said IDES analyst Norman Kelewitz. “People are working in stores and [then] they are no longer working in stores because people are finished with their Christmas shopping.”

Kelewitz added that a similar scenario happens with construction jobs, as more layoffs occur when the weather gets colder.

Norm Walzer, a senior research fellow at Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies, also speculated that the winter break at NIU could have a seasonal effect on employment numbers.

The county ended its streak of posting monthly unemployment rates that were better year over year: January 2012’s unemployment rate was 9.1 percent.

However, Kelewitz noted that the county’s labor force, number of employed workers, and unemployed workers have all increased over a year ago. People who are not seeking employment are not considered in the unemployment rate.

“When the economy improves, people who haven’t been looking for work begin looking for work,” Kelewitz said. “That’s why employment and unemployment goes up.”

Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., also pointed to the county’s January labor force of 59,668 – 900 more than last year – as evidence of growing economic strength.

“Overall, there are more jobs and there’s increasing demand from the employers that we work with,” Borek said.

Kelewitz said the county’s economic health would be in trouble if labor force and employment went down for a series of consecutive months.

“That would be a trend, but that hasn’t happened for a while,” Kelewitz said. “Things have been improving since the end of the recession.”

Walzer said it will be interesting to see what effect sequestration – massive cuts that occurred at the federal government in March – will have on the local economy. Walzer said that has yet to be seen locally.

“When that starts to kick in, there could be a significant loss of contracts,” Walzer said. “There may be some cutbacks at that. But you don’t know which agency will be hit the most.”

IDES usually gathers monthly employment data and releases it the fourth Thursday of the next month. However, the states spend February revising the employment data and set benchmarks for the next year, said IDES spokesman Greg Rivara. February data will be released March 28.  

The Associated Press reported Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell nationwide to the lowest point since the week of March 8, 2008, three months after the Great Recession began.

However, unemployment increased in January for seven of Illinois’ 12 metro areas, including Chicago, which includes DeKalb County.

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