NorthBridge Blog

Pat DuganIf it seems to you like there are more cranes dotting the skyline, more condos and apartment complexes under development than you can keep track of, you’re absolutely right. There’s a nation-leading construction boom underway across Chicago and its surrounding suburbs that represents a powerful turnaround. Building Boom

In December alone, according to figures from research firm Dodge Data & Analytics, Chicagoland saw more than $452 million in total residential construction spending. Taken year-to-date, the total was $7.230 billion, a 46% jump that was the best VTD growth of any metro area in the U.S.A.
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Pat DuganWe’ve mentioned repeatedly how Chicago is becoming a real hotbed of opportunity for tech jobs, and this latest survey justifies that judgment. Real estate firm CBRE has been keeping track of who’s renting commercial office space in various nationwide markets, and Chicago has “cracked the top ten,” according to this coverage in Crain’s Chicago Business.

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Pat DuganWe recently wrote about a youth jobs program that’s desperately needed in Chicago, and soon after that the Tribune brought more heat to the topic with this extensive feature story about the challenges of bringing jobs to our city’s young people — and the consequences of failure.

You can wrap those up in one simple quote from the story:

“The two trends are tragically intertwined, where youth unemployment contributes to the incidence of violence, and violence in our communities contributes to many barriers to employment, both because of the violence itself and because of the criminal justice system’s response to that violence,” said Matt Bruce, executive director of the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance.
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Pat DuganIf you follow all the recent stories about the employment scene in Chicagoland and Illinois, you might have gotten a headache.

Who can blame you?

The stories can seem contrary and confusing…

We can attest to the fact there are companies in Chicago looking to hire. The jobs that are at the top of companies’ lists are as diverse as salespeople, industrial psychologists, actuaries, physical therapists, underwriters and computer research scientists. Construction workers are at a premium, especially.

But Chicago and booming segments and technology-driven industries are only one part of the jobs landscape across Illinois. They haven’t been enough to power a recovery that reaches everybody.
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pat_small2015 was a frustrating year for anyone interested in making headway in jobs growth in Illinois. It wasn’t a disastrous year, but it wasn’t the kind of rebound that’s needed to fuel future prosperity.

In fact, the state lost a net 3,000 jobs in 2015, which isn’t anywhere near the dropoffs of the recent recession, but it wasn’t encouraging – and steep losses in manufacturing, to the tune of 14,000 jobs over the course of the year, show how fragile a recovery can be, especially when it’s impacted by factors well outside the state line.

The main culprit? Exports have slowed as China and Europe’s economies have struggled. That’s affected manufacturing jobs, and Illinois has been one of the states to suffer.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois lost an alarming 16,300 payroll jobs in December alone, which rolled back much of the progress the state made over the rest of the year.

Despite being the most populous state in the region, Illinois is still having a tough time bouncing back, even when there’s a relatively strong national economy, and even markets like Detroit are making gains.


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pat_smallDuring Q1, it looks like employers may start hiring again – gradually.  A survey quoted by Crain’s says that 14% of respondents expect to hire from January to March, with 10% anticipating cuts.

Of the companies surveyed in metro Chicago by the temporary-staffing company, 14% say they will hire more employees from January to March, while 10% plan to reduce their payrolls. The number of employers who foresee adding to their headcount is unchanged from the current quarter, while the number planning layoffs declined from 13%. In this year’s first quarter, only 8% of employers expected to increase staff and 16% planned cutbacks.

As far as where those new jobs are coming from, it’s predicted that durable goods manufacturing, financial activities, education and health services will see new positions added.


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pat_smallAccording to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, unemployment numbers declined by 1.5% during October in the metro area defined by Chicago, Joliet and Naperville, to an overall level of 9.7%.  It was the second month that measured unemployment had declined.  Among all areas in the state, Peoria may have performed the best, with saw a decline of 2.3%, though its overall level stands at 8.9%, with the state overall at a 9.2% figure.

It’s an improvement over the 10.9% figure posted a year previous for October, which would translate into about 60,000 more jobs having been added to the area economy over that time.


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pat_smallIn September, the unemployment rate in Chicago dropped to 9.4 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.   Jobless rates dropped in all reporting areas across the state, in fact.  That’s encouraging, but the overall scene has been a very mixed bag for the year, of course — the Chicago area has lost over 51,000 jobs over the past year.

Hopefully, good news like this example will continue as the recovery picks up steam!


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pat_smallHere’s yet another example of Chicagoans doing the right thing in tough times – a jobs program for those with mental disabilities.

We may not realize that unemployment for people with mental illnesses is well into the double-digits.  So programs like those offered by the C4 – Community Counseling Centers of Chicago are essential to helping these folks find useful work.

As Earl Burke, one of the people benefiting from the program, puts it,

“I don’t know if I would say it saved my life, but I was kind of drinking in the streets a little,” Burke said. “I’ve been seeing the doctor now for the last 13 years. I’ve been out of the hospital, like, 13 years. I haven’t been drinking in about 11 years. I had my apartment 13 years.”

For people like Mr. Burke, being given an opportunity to do honest work for honest pay can literally be a matter of life and death.  So our hats are off to organizations like C4 for helping others!


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pat_smallThere’s some evidence of “conversions from temporary to permanent workers” in the Chicago market, among others, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book survey of economic indicators.  That may be the result of “skills scarcity” in some categories in this market — employers, seeing some economic daylight in their particular businesses, lock up skilled employees whose specific talents may be at a premium in this region.

Other markets, though, are seeing different results:

“Hiring of permanent employees was held down in part by employers’ reliance on temporary and contract workers, as reported by Philadelphia and Atlanta, although Boston noted that conversions from temporary to permanent staff picked up,” the report said.


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pat_smallAnalysis of the national employment figures just released indicates a slowdown in hiring, as the recovery makes slow headway, according to a new report released by the Conference Board.   There are a fair number of contributing factors, but the sum total is that there’s no pronounced, steady and strong uptick happening yet.

“Employment growth has been slow lately, and the employment trends index suggests that it may slow even further this fall,” said Gad Levanon, associate director. “However, we still expect job growth rather than an outright decline in the next several months.”

Temporary hiring showed signs of life, however, that bode well for the long term prospects of the rest of the economy, at least according to analysis by the Labor Department.

Temporary employment rose as well. It’s often considered a sign of future growth because employers will hire temporary workers as a recovery takes hold and then eventually hire new, full-time staff.


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It may bpat_smalle a sign of the difficult times we’ve been through of late: a recent poll indicates that 23% of employers are seeing internship applications from mature, experienced workers, people who are pursuing the same positions as college students.  Internships obviously provide jobseekers with a way to “audition” for permanent roles, and give them a chance to pick up new experience and skills.  Other indications from the survey?

Regardless of applicants’ ages, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of employers said they plan to hire interns during the remainder of 2010 to help support workloads. Fourteen percent said they anticipate hiring paid interns, while 7 percent said they won’t be paying their interns. An additional 5 percent said they will hire both paid and unpaid interns. Fifty-three percent of employers said they plan to pay interns $10 or more per hour, while 5 percent said they will pay $25 or more per hour.

Let’s be clear about the considerable distinctions between internships and temporary or contingent hiring: the latter usually require specific, established skills that are put to the job immediately tackling very imminent challenges.  Internships can provide support for permanent staff, but almost always not in the kind of jobs that are critical to a company’s core success.  Often, as the survey goes on to indicate, they’re in maintenance or errand-heavy roles, where they’re peripheral to real responsibilities.


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