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Regional jobless rates keep declining

Milder weather could unleash pent-up demand

Local unemployment rates fell throughout most of the state in February, and the Sauk Valley was no exception.

Rates fell in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle, Carroll and Bureau counties last month when compared to February of last year, according to data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Ogle’s numbers showed the most marked improvement with a jobless rate of 11.7 percent in February, compared to 12.8 percent a year ago. Ogle still has the highest rate in the five-county region, but the February number also was three-tenths of a percentage point lower than the previous month.

Whiteside County came in at 9.9 percent in February, still the lowest in the region, and six-tenths lower than a year ago. Lee County’s jobless rate fell from 10.8 percent in February 2013 to 10.1 percent this February.

The state jobless rate was unchanged from January, at 8.7 percent, and down from 9.2 percent a year ago. The numbers continue to build on a trend of gradual growth.

Since January 2010, when compared to the previous month, Illinois has posted job growth in 35 months and job loss in 14 months.

The state’s latest jobless rate is its lowest since February 2009, considered to be the middle of the recession, but with many counties still in double digits, Illinois has some work to do, IDES Director Jay Rowell said.

“February’s job numbers show that our economy continues to improve,” Rowell said. “It also reminds us that more is needed and expected because that economic success has yet to return to every household.”

More than 250,000 jobs have been created in the past 5 years, yet Illinois was ranked dead last in the nation in job growth prospects for 2014, according to information compiled by the Pew Research Center, an independent public policy nonprofit organization.

Although continued signs of gradual growth were seen in January and February, there are some bigger factors at play when analyzing prospects for the rest of the year, IDES spokesman Greg Rivara said.

One of those factors is an end to a relentless winter, which could unleash pent-up demand for a variety of goods and services.

“We need some mild weather with wind to dry the ground,” Rivara said. “Then road projects and construction can get going in earnest, people can invest in delayed home projects, and economic activity can gain momentum.”

Recent geopolitical unrest, most notably in Russia, has made businesses and investors more fearful about economic prospects.

“We need stability and a certain level of comfort with regard to the rest of the world and their borders,” Rivara said. “We’ve seen the effects on the stock market of late.”

Rivara also believes that once the slowdown in global manufacturing turns around, especially with regional bellwethers such as Caterpillar and Deere & Co., the effects will be seen locally.

“Once that demand returns, it should have a noticeable effect throughout the surrounding areas,” Rivara said.

Jobless rates

Listed by: Feb. 2014; Jan. 2014; Feb. 2013

Whiteside County: 9.9% 9.7% 10.5%

Lee County: 10.1% 9.9% 10.8%

Ogle County: 11.7% 12.0% 12.8%

Carroll County: 10.9% 10.5% 11.1%

Bureau County: 10.9% 11.1% 11.5%

Illinois: 8.7% 8.7% 9.2%

U.S.: 6.7% 6.6% 7.7%

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security

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