By Minjae Park
Evanston’s unemployment rate dropped from 7.3 percent to 7.1 percent in November, marking the fourth straight month of job gains, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
But despite the seemingly welcome gains, business officials cautioned against placing too much significance on the recent figures.
“I would be very careful to draw any significant conclusions from a drop in the unemployment rate of two-tenths of one percent,” said Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce. “A drop of one percent or half a percent — then you say some things.”
The number of employed workers in Evanston increased to 39,949 from 39,518, outpacing the growth in the total number of available workers, to 42,993 from 42,639. The unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted.
“We did see growing optimism before the holidays because there was such an influx of seasonal jobs available,” said Allison Rosen, a site coordinator for LIFT-Evanston, a nonprofit helping low-income families with employment, housing, public benefits and tax credits. “We had a lot of clients calling the office wanting to celebrate the fact that they’d secured an interview or a job placement. Many of those were temporary or seasonal jobs.”
The joblessness figure still hovers above the 4.7 percent rate of unemployment in 2008.
Evanston is faring better than Illinois, which had an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent in November, a figure that is also not seasonally-adjusted. Chicago’s unemployment rate, at 10.0 percent, has been stuck in double digits since March 2009.
“We have some stabilizing forces that make Evanston a little different than other communities,” Perman said. “Number one, we’ve got Northwestern University and other educational employment bases here. Two, we have the two hospitals. And while there’s been some decline in their hiring and employment, the fact is that there’s still a lot of opportunities that are generated by those institutions, and therefore, provide Evanston with an underlying base of employment stability.”
With even experienced workers having to reenter the job market, Rosen has noticed clients at the LIFT-Evanston office with higher levels of education — some with master’s degrees.
This changed job market has dampened the prospects of younger job-seekers who apply for the same jobs as job-seekers who are sometimes over-qualified.
“Competition is so high,” said Jordan Burghardt, Employer Outreach Coordinator of the Youth Job Center of Evanston. “Youth job seekers are now competing for entry-level jobs at Starbucks against job-seekers who have been employed for 10 or 20 years.”
The Youth Job Center of Evanston, which connects young job-seekers with employers, drew a record crowd of more than 500 people at its fall job fair. Youth unemployment is usually hit harder by a recession, since younger workers are less educated and more likely than older workers to hold temporary jobs or jobs in industries more responsive to changes in the economy.
“The best way to track unemployment rates for youth job seekers is by looking at the overall job market,” Burghardt said. “As more seasoned job seekers start getting hired on again, youth unemployment will drop as well.”