Recent Unemployment Rates Have Many Puzzled

Unemployment numbers from September were announced one week ago.  Most major areas in Illinois are at six year lows.  The unemployment rate in Decatur last month was just under 8%.  Decatur's labor force is made up of 51,000 people.  According to the Illinois Department of Economic Security about 47,000 are employed and about 4,000 are unemployed. But few understand how these numbers are produced and what they actually describe.  Let's first define the labor force.  It refers to all working-age individuals who are employed or unemployed and actively looking for work, specifically during the week of the 12th of each month.  The employed include those workers who worked at least one hour for pay during that week.  The unemployed include those who lost their jobs involuntarily, quit their jobs, entered the labor market for the first time or have been laid off but are expected to be recalled.  The unemployment rate is the number of unemployed people compared to the total civilian labor force.   The amount of people in the labor force is determined by a monthly household survey, known as the current population survey.

"We talk to individuals, said Greg Rivera, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.  “Are you working?  Do you want to be working?  Are you looking for work?"

Based on their responses, individuals are then placed into three categories: Employed, unemployed, or not in the labor force.

"That is the data we use to determine the unemployment rate,” Rivera.  “This is how people are describing themselves."

Many believe that the number of unemployed residents is solely based on those receiving unemployment benefits. In Illinois, less than 50 percent of unemployed residents receive unemployment benefits, so it's only one component for measuring unemployment.

"When we look at job numbers, we ask employers, how many people did you pay this month,” said Rivera.  “How many people do you expect to pay next month?  And we then compare that with data that we had in previous months as well as the previous year."

The official unemployment rates are not intended to measure economic hardship, but rather provide some indication of labor supply and demand.

Current Conditions