Economist: Low B-N Jobless Rate Points To Labor Shortage | WGLT

Economist: Low B-N Jobless Rate Points To Labor Shortage

Jun 28, 2018

The Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council released its latest quarterly update showing record low unemployment rates and a slight increase in jobs over 2017.

The report will be discussed in detail at Thursday's BN By The Numbers event at Illinois State University.

Mike Doherty, senior economist for the Illinois Farm Bureau's Government Affairs and Commodities Division, said Bloomington-Normal is seeing its lowest unemployment rates since 2007 and the late 1990s. Now at 3.3 percent, the area's unemployment puts Bloomington-Normal on the brink of a labor shortage, or "full employment."

"It puts pressure on businesses to be very competitive in other ways in which they are doing business so that they can afford to pay those higher wages that they are going to have to pay to increase the size of the business," Doherty said.

Doherty said those higher wages are often drawn from an increase in cost of goods and services.

Asked why Bloomington-Normal has seen such low unemployment rates in recent years compared to its neighbors (Peoria at 4.2 percent, Champaign-Urbana at 3.6 percent, and Springfield at 3.4 percent), Doherty said the area hasn't experienced significant job layoffs.

"Our cutbacks occurred back in 2012 with some declines there, but they have held steady since then," Doherty said.

State Farm is shedding hundreds of local IT jobs, though it's also hiring other positions in Bloomington. Asked about the potential impact on local unemployment those cutbacks might have, Doherty said the impact won't be known until a later report is released.

"We're still talking a 1 percent change in jobs ... we've got about 95,000 jobs in Bloomington-Normal, so you have to keep that in perspective as to what your base is," Doherty said. "But yes, if those cutbacks or reductions are significant, I would expect to see those show up in the future numbers we will see coming from the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Jobs

Bloomington-Normal saw an overall increase of 400 to 500 jobs over last year. Doherty says these numbers could change once the June statistics come in, but he said this increase was not from traditional categories like the financial sector which encompasses State Farm and Country Financial. 

"Those sectors did not show any decline either, but there was a slight increase in the leisure and hospitality sector and a few other sectors were just a small bump up, enough to create that additional number of jobs," Doherty said.

In contrast, the financial sector has remained flat.

"It hasn't gone up, hasn't gone down," Doherty said. "Despite the news about changes at State Farm, for example."

Retail Taxes

The report shows Bloomington retail sales taxes from 2017 to now is down 2.5 percent, while Normal is up 6 percent. 

"I'm working with the Economic Development Council and we have some people looking at those kinds of numbers to see what might be behind that, but I don't know offhand," he said.

Doherty said a deeper look into this disparity could be discussed at the BN by the Numbers event on Thursday.

Overall, Doherty said the quarterly report is "very positive."

"Despite what people might be hearing about cutbacks at major employers, it hasn't shown up yet," Doherty said. "We're holding our own in terms of economic activity. We're doing better than holding our own in terms of jobs."

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