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Metra commuters on their way to Chicago. (Photo/Kiran Dandia)

Chicago-Area Unemployment Lowest in a Decade

ByJake Jozefowicz and Kiran Dandia

Posted: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018

With the total number of people claiming unemployment insurance in Cook County decreasing by 53.4 percent from October 2008 to October 2018, it is within reason to question: What factors contribute to the lower unemployment rate in Chicago?

With the national unemployment rate at 3.7 percent in October 2018, this year has been a sharp contrast to the recession that the United States has endured in 2008 and 2009, where the average national unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in 2008 and 9.2 percent in 2009.

The unemployment rate remained above 9 percent until 2011, when the rate gradually decreased to be under 4 percent in 2018. Not only is the country as a whole experiencing a prosperous job market, but the Chicago area alone is thriving economically.

“It’s definitely a job-seekers market right now,” said Kelly Koltan, a marketing manager who also helps with hiring at Grenzebach Glier and Associates in Chicago. “Good employees are really hard to attract and retain. So a lot of employers are finding it difficult to find good people to hire and finding it difficult to keep them there when there’s so much competition for good talent.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area alone is experiencing a low unemployment rate of 4 percent. The low unemployment rate in the suburbs of Chicago may be due to people obtaining work in the city, causing many to make the relatively long commute to Chicago.

“I would say it depends on what kind of industry you’re looking to work in,” Kolton said. “Currently in marketing and communications there are more opportunities in the city than there are in the suburbs.”


However, many people may be making this commute because they would like to work in an urban setting. When asked if she chose to work in the city due to more opportunities, Caroline Durkin, an assistant strategist at PHD Media, said, “I honestly only looked for jobs in the city. I have friends who have jobs in the suburbs (so a much easier commute!) and I feel like some of them may get paid more, but I looked for a job in Chicago because I really only wanted to be in that environment.”

The 3.7 percent unemployment rate in Chicago is not only due to people from the suburbs commuting to the city for their job, but there are also numerous employment agencies who will assist job-seekers in finding the right match.

Even those who are facing obstacles to obtaining a job such as having a criminal background, living in poverty, and homelessness may be able to find work with the assistance of an employment agency such as Lakeview Employment Group.

Liala Beukema is director of Lakeview Employment group, which has programs to help individuals find all different kinds of employment. One of their programs is an internship program that helps candidates gain necessary experience and eventually find full employment.

“Our general target audience are people who have barriers to employment,” Beukema said. “Homelessness or a history with law enforcement are top of the areas we try to offer assistance. After that we look for individuals who are eager to make strides in establishing a more stable life for themselves and their families.

“We prioritize individuals who come prepared to the interview-showing that they have reviewed the application and other materials. Through the interview process we look for honesty, enthusiasm, and determination.  Participants do not have to have a pristine background or work experience … they just have to be open to working on developing the skills and insights that will enable them to move forward.”


In many parts of Chicago, people are facing these “barriers to employment.” Chicago is expensive to live in, coming in as the 7th most expensive city, according to a report by UBS.

For those individuals who are looking for employment, it helps to know who’s looking for employees in the first place.

“In my observation, and in areas of working with folks who will be looking at entry level, lower skilled jobs, we see a lot of placements in the service areas (food service, customer service, etc.),” Beukema said.

These are industries with the most demand for employees in Chicago. Beukema uses the term, “entry level,” referring to jobs that usually will not require an educational background. These jobs are also usually a starting point to eventually lead to something more (higher position, more pay, etc..). Jobs are becoming less scarce in a consistently growing city like Chicago.

When asked if she thinks there are more employers seeking employees or more job-seekers seeking employment, Beukema said, “I see something of an equal level of need. However, the jobs that are more plentiful require some level of education or training (technology for instance.)

“This should provide some peace of mind to both entry level seekers as well as job seekers with a degree. In Chicago, there is always a demand for all different types of people, no matter what your background or experience entails.”

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