Unemployment increases

By Laura Grandt

ob growth was down and unemployment rates were up in DeKalb County in 2002, leaving job growth and unemployment rates for 2003 uncertain.

Industrial layoffs caused by a struggling economy are partly to blame said Roger Hopkins, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Commission. In the past year, the job growth rate decreased by 1 percent. In the past two years, it decreased by 2 percent.

The unemployment rate finished off the year in 2002 at 5.7 percent, after fluctuating throughout the middle months, according to the State of Illinois Department of Employment Security Web site.

DeKalb seems to fall in the middle of the pack in Illinois with unemployment rates reaching as high as 9.3 percent in Fulton County, and as low as 2.7 percent in McLean County for December 2002, the Web site stated.

DeKalb does not fare too badly against the rest of the state and country. The Illinois unemployment rate is 6.4 percent as of December 2002, whereas the latest national count is 5.7 percent as of January 2003.

One fact to keep in mind when considering job growth and unemployment rates is the possibility of temporary hirings altering statistics.

“We were hoping for a little different outcome,” Hopkins said of job employment rates for 2002.

Pat Rogers, employment security program representative for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said that training enrollment at her facility has almost doubled over the past three years.

“Unemployment is up higher, and that’s due to the economy,” she said.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security offers free services to assist people in obtaining employment, including free training classes held at various places.

Rogers said many of the people enrolling in training courses were laid off from second shifts and plants closing. Many held middle or upper management positions. Those people will have an especially hard time trying to find jobs of comparable pay and status.

New training consists mostly of workers laid off from the manufacturing sector. She said the training programs most commonly enrolled in were in the computer, healthcare and trucking fields.

New retail stores, many opening in spring, bring a renewed hope for 2003. A possible plan to open a Kohl’s department store in DeKalb is an especially exciting prospect because of the jobs it would create.

Although retail stores will help ease unemployment rates, the jobs will probably primarily be held by women who were laid off from higher paying line jobs in industries such as electronics, Hopkins said.

Along with electronics, the heavy equipment manufacturing, auto parts manufacturing and healthcare industries in DeKalb are ailing.

Healthcare in DeKalb County is extremely dependent on the government, especially state, and the university.

Hopkins said the state may defer or stretch payments to compensate for budget issues, which would reduce cash flow, and thus make healthcare facilities hesitant to hire new employees.

He also said that the university may have to restrict hiring, and possibly begin layoffs if the budget is cut, something DeKalb has not seen in a long time.

The outlook is not uniform for all sectors, however. Residential commercial construction has experienced some success, a notion Hopkins attributes to low interest rates and the fact that DeKalb County is underdeveloped in many areas of retail.

Specialty manufacturing and packaging of consumer products have fared well also.

Hopkins notes the goal of adding 800 to 1,000 jobs, the yearly rule of thumb increase during the 1990s, but adds that it is difficult to predict rates for 2003.