Unemployment is one of the most common ways to understand the ups and downs of the economy. But there are different ways to measure unemployment, besides the official unemployment rate. This is one reason the unemployment rate is most useful over time, as an indicator of trends–rather than as a single number that tells us definite information about an exact time. This page contains the official unemployment numbers for different geographic areas in Illinois, as well as information about how unemployment is measured. The information is organized as follows:

  • Unemployment Rates These are the official unemployment rates for different areas in Illinois (and for comparison, the United States).
  • Measuring Unemployment This section explains the way the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics measures unemployment.

Unemployment Rates

 Unemployment in Illinois and Illinois Cities1Figures come from the Illinois Department of Employment Security, and are not seasonally adjusted, meaning the effects of regular, seasonal patterns were not taken into account during the calculation process. IDES also archives historical monthly data from 1990 to the present.

IDES provides a full list of county, metro area, and city unemployment rates each month.2Also available in spreadsheet format. Select “All Areas” and “Excel” before downloading. Use the chart below to compare unemployment in select cities to unemployment in Illinois and the United States. Checking the boxes will select or deselect each area. Hover over the line to see the exact unemployment rate for a specific time and area.

May 2017 Unemployment Rate in Illinois: 4.3% 3preliminary rate
May 2017 Unemployment Rate for Chicago: 4.6% 4preliminary rate

Source: American Community Survey estimates ’06-’10

Chicago Neighborhood Unemployment:

Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center provides the most up-to-date unemployment rates by neighborhood. Scroll to page 22 of the report for a detailed list. 5Based on the 2011-2015 five-year estimates of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The map on the right, though based on slightly older data, also shows economic indicators such as unemployment and poverty in Chicago neighborhoods.6Created by the City of Chicago, based on the 2006-2010 five-year estimates of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. See the full description of the data for more information.

Illinois County Unemployment:

IDES prepares a county-level unemployment map for each month. Visit the Bureau of Labor Statistics for unemployment data at the county level for each of the past 14 months.

Measuring Unemployment

A key indicator of labor market status for a state, county, or city is the unemployment rate.  The definition of unemployed according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a person who, “is without work, available for work, and has actively searched for work.”  Although the “official unemployment rate” cited most often by the government is defined as, “the total unemployed persons, as a percent of the civilian labor force,” this measurement is only one of six used by the government to understand labor underutilization.  The chart below defines all six of the measurements.

For more information see this report on unemployment measurements from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Measure of Labor Underutilization Definition
U-1 Person unemployed 15 weeks or longer, as a percent of the civilian labor force.7The civilian labor force is the sum of the employed plus the unemployed. The employed are all persons who, during the reference week, a) did any work at all as paid employees, worked in their own business, profession, or on their own farm, or worked 15 hours or more as unpaid workers in an enterprise operated by a member of their family, and b) all those who were not working but who had jobs or businesses from which they were temporarily absent.  The unemployed are a) persons who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find work sometime during the 4-week period ending with the reference week, and b) persons who were waiting to be recalled to a job from which they had been laid off, regardless of whether they have been looking for work.
U-2 Job losers and persons who completed temporary jobs, as a percent of the civilian labor force.
U-3 (Official Unemployment Rate) Total unemployed persons, as a percent of the civilian labor force.
U-4 Total unemployed persons plus discouraged workers,8Discouraged workers are a subset of the marginally attached. They must report they are not currently looking for work for one of four reasons.  1) They believe no job is available to them in their line of work. 2) They had previously been unable to find work. 3) They lack the necessary schooling, training, skills or experience. 4) Employers think they are too young or too old, or they face some other type of discrimination. as a percent of the civilian labor force plus discouraged workers
U-5 Total unemployed persons, plus discouraged workers, plus all other “marginally attached” workers9“Marginally attached” workers are persons without jobs who are not currently looking for work, but who nevertheless have demonstrated some degree of labor force attachment.  Specifically, to be counted as marginally attached, individuals must indicate that they currently want a job, have looked for work in the past 12 months, and are available for work., as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all “marginally attached” workers.
U-6 Total unemployed persons, plus all “marginally attached” workers, plus all persons employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all “marginally attached” workers.

U.S. Census Bureau Data

The U.S. Census Bureau provides the American FactFinder, a resource for finding demographic, economic, social, housing and other pertinent information for over 7,000 different geographic areas nationwide. Information is available from the wide range of Census Bureau’s datasets.10For more information about the FactFinder, as well as instructions for using it, read the WIRE’s Guide to the FactFinder.

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