STERLING – March jobless rates in the Sauk Valley showed a marked decrease from February, but three area counties still have unemployment rates equal to or higher than their rates in March 2012.
Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Carroll and Bureau counties all had dips in unemployment rates from February to March, according to data released Thursday by Illinois Department of Employment Security.
Lee and Ogle counties’ jobless rates decreased from March 2012. Bureau and Carroll counties’ unemployment rates increased from last year, and Whiteside County’s stayed the same year-to-year at 9.7 percent.
Whiteside County’s March unemployment rate of 9.7 percent was down from 11.2 percent in February.
Lee County’s unemployment rate in March was 9.6 percent, down from 11.3 percent in February, and down from 9.7 percent in March 2012.
The data, which are not seasonally adjusted, are generally considered more meaningful when compared year-over-year.
In Whiteside and Lee counties, the number of jobless people decreased slightly from March last year to this year. The number of unemployed in Lee County dropped from 1,672 in March 2012 to 1,647 in March this year. In Whiteside County, the number of jobless people went from 2,786 in March last year to 2,770.
But in all five area counties, the labor forces, which include those working or looking for work, decreased from February to March and from March 2012 to this year.
Greg Rivara is a spokesman for IDES.
The shrinking labor force in the area is “not surprising when you take a look at the state as a whole,” he said. “The difference between 2012 and 2013 is not significant.”
Whiteside County’s labor force in March 2012 was 28,862. Its labor force in March this year was 28,617. Lee County’s labor force went from 17,200 in March last year to 17,087 in March of this year.
Something as simple as local schools’ spring break could be a reason the area’s labor force is down, Rivara said. During the week-long vacation, local people who were asked whether they worked or looked for work might have responded that they did not as they were on vacation, he said.
“March was a volatile month across the state,” Rivara said. “The hallmark of this economic cycle has been positive momentum for a couple of months in a row followed by a pause in that momentum for a month or two, then the momentum returning.”
The Sauk Valley has similarities to other parts of the state in one way, Rivara said: “There really was no central theme to the March report, which really emphasizes the volatility of this particular month.”
The state had steady increases in labor force statewide from October to February, he said.
“In March, we have a decrease,” he said. “What we now want to take a look at is, What are the next following months going to tell us?”
The state’s unemployment rate in March was 9.4 percent, down from 10.4 percent in February and up from 9.1 percent in March last year.