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County jobless rate up from year ago; labor force down

Published: Thursday, April 25, 2013 12:41 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 25, 2013 11:53 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Employment experts were stumped by why DeKalb County's unemployment rate has registered higher than a year ago for the third consecutive month.

The unemployment rate for DeKalb County was 8.9 percent in March, compared with 8.5 percent in March 2012, according to seasonally unadjusted data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security. It was a full percentage point lower than February, though, when the rate was 9.9 percent.

"The unemployment rate was very, very high," said IDES analyst Norman Kelewitz. "It's taken a long time to get it down. It hasn't been a consistent recovery where things are so much better."

The county's labor force dropped by 103 workers over the previous year to 59,033 in March 2013. The number of employed workers living in the county also dropped by 336, the data shows.

Labor force statistics count people who are working and who are unemployed and looking for work. People who have given up looking for a job are not counted.

Norm Walzer, a research fellow with Northern Illinois University's Center for Governmental Studies, noted 734 people left the labor force between February and March. He said the drop in the labor force matches what he's been reading in national news reports.

"Nationally, there seems to be a feeling that people are getting discouraged and pulling out of the labor market," Walzer said. "That seems to be what we're seeing here."

Nationwide, employers added only 88,000 jobs in March, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released earlier this month. In the past four months, employers added an average of 173,500 jobs a month.

Kelewitz noted the slow and inconsistent speed of the economic recovery.

"There weren't great changes, but things haven't been fairly consistent in terms of improvement," Kelewitz said.

Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, said he was unaware of any major closings or layoffs in neighboring counties that could account for the labor force drop month-to-month.

Year-to-year, Borek said, the county's labor force and employed workers figure are stable.

"Manufacturers and industries that we work with indicate too that employment is stable and they indicated hiring in the near future," Borek said, although he emphasized that he wasn't making any official announcements regarding hiring.

DeKalb County falls into the Chicago metro region, which saw its unemployment rate rise from 9 percent in March 2012 to 9.5 percent in March 2013. State officials said the region added 45,800 non-farm jobs in the last year.

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