DeKALB – Employment analysts believe DeKalb County’s economy is improving slightly, despite a slower recovery and an increasing number of unemployed residents.
The county’s labor force grew by 554 people to 59,767 in February, which is 633 more people than were in the labor force in February 2012, according to seasonally unadjusted data. The Illinois Department of Employment Security released the data Thursday.
February’s unemployment rate of 9.9 percent is 1 percentage point greater than last year’s. It’s the second consecutive month in which the year-over-year rate has been worse. However, IDES analyst Norman Kelewitz said he is not worried about an overall negative trend.
“Things are still improving, but not at a very fast speed,” Kelewitz said.
DeKalb County falls into the Chicago metro region, which saw its unemployment rate rise by 1.2 percentage point from February 2012 to 10.3 percent in February 2013. State officials said the region added 55,000 non-farm jobs in the last year.
Statewide, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Illinois was 10.5 percent, which is higher than the national rate of 8.1 percent in February.
Unemployment figures count people who are out of work and looking for work. So when labor force and unemployment numbers increase, Norm Walzer, a research associate at Northern Illinois University’s Center for Governmental Studies, takes it as a good sign.
“People are not discouraged,” Walzer said. “People are coming back into the labor market.”
February saw the closing of Caribou Coffee and Hallmark along Sycamore Road in DeKalb. Paul Borek, executive director of DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, pointed out that the county’s number of employed workers has only decreased by 84 people.
“With the employment numbers relatively similar from 2012 to 2013, it does seem to be influenced by the size of the labor force rather than any reduction in jobs,” Borek said.
Borek said he is seeing signs of growth in manufacturing, distribution and health care.
At a recent workforce summit, Borek said he heard optimistic comments from area company owners and executives.
“The strength of the economy is causing more people to enter the labor force,” Borek said. “Employment is not much different from February 2012, but the labor force is larger.”
By the numbers
DeKalb County unemployment rates (seasonally unadjusted)
January: 9.6 percent
February: 9.9 percent
Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates for neighboring counties:
DeKalb County: 9.9 percent
Boone County: 14.7 percent
Kane County: 11.1 percent
Kendall County: 9.7 percent
LaSalle County: 13.6 percent
Lee County: 11.4 percent
McHenry County: 10.2 percent
Ogle County: 13.4 percent
Winnebago County: 13.1 percent