Unemployment figures in parts of the Illinois Valley ticked up to 11 percent, according to a state report released Thursday.
Unemployment rates locally remain higher than the state average — and the state rate remains higher than the national rate — although the Chicago-Naperville-Joliet rate for December 2013 fell four-tenths of a percentage point from December 2012 to reach 8.2 percent for the first time since 2008, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security.
This week, President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address said unemployment rates were falling. Critics rapidly said the rate has gone down as the workforce shrinks and as discouraged Americans stopped looking for jobs, retired or otherwise left the official labor force.
“That is not the case in Illinois,” said Greg Rivara, spokesman for Illinois Department of Employment Security. “In Illinois, our labor force has actually been going up, not down. That is a small reason for the unemployment rate going up. There are other factors, construction also being significant. And the bitter cold, combined with the holidays also are a potential reason for the upward tick.”
The Ottawa-Streator labor market area had an 11 percent unemployment rate in December 2013, compared to 10.4 percent in December 2012 and 10.3 percent in November 2013.
Local unemployment rates are based on phone surveys with people and employers.
“It essentially asks individuals: ‘Have you worked in the last month?’ The job number asks businesses, ‘How many people did you pay?’ It’s why sometimes you have job growth and an increase in the unemployment rate at the same time,” Rivara said.
“If the unemployment rate is up and the labor force is growing, that means more people want to work and they believe they will find work.”
However, he said he is not trying to suggest people should be happy with that 11-percent unemployment figure.
In the Ottawa-Streator-La Salle area, gains in job totals were posted in the number of construction, manufacturing and leisure-hospitality positions from December 2012 to last month, while retail and wholesale employment was down, according to IDES figures.
Bureau County (10 percent unemployment), La Salle County (11.4 percent), Putnam County (10.9 percent) and Marshall County (8.5 percent) all saw December year-to-year unemployment rate increases. La Salle County’s unemployment rate for November 2013 was 10.7 percent.
“Retail trade has been challenged, really throughout Central Illinois, and we really need to take a look as to why that is,” Rivara said.
Seeing increases numbers of Ottawa-La Salle-area construction jobs is notable, considering a cold December that prevented or hampered outdoor work.
“La Salle County has always been strong in the construction trades,” Rivara said. “The construction trades were among the first sectors hit in the recession. It remains one of the last sectors to build momentum out of the recession. It does so mainly through home sales and foreclosures.
“Illinois’ foreclosure process has more safeguards, and those safeguards lengthen the process … (that) makes it longer to eventually sell or refinance a home. If we’re not selling or refinancing existing stock, we most likely are not constructing new homes.”
News editor Craig Sterrett contributed to this report. He can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.