The state of Illinois will continue to struggle financially until it finds a way to improve its long-declining manufacturing sector, which continues to bring down the state’s economy.
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune, using U.S. Labor Bureau statistics, notes that there are 90,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in Illinois than there were in 2008. Since the recession, Illinois regained less than 5 percent of its manufacturing jobs – though the hospitality and service industry has added 54,000.
The article said Illinois has the worst recession-recovery rate of all neighboring states, with Michigan recently surpassing Illinois in total manufacturing jobs created. Indiana, which has half Illinois’ population, also leads Illinois in that category.
“Illinoisans who are lucky enough to find production work, take home the lowest average pay in the Midwest," the story said.
Lawrence Officer, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the problem runs so deep that even the election of a reform-minded politicians may not stem the tide of lost jobs.
“(The election) may not solve anything permanently, but it will keep (politicians) on their toes. We can’t let them go so far,” he said. “Politicians tend to look at the short-term and all the while the long-term problems are building up.”
He said the state budget stalemate isn’t anywhere near a positive mark for the state, but that it’s a
short-term problem and not the driving factor for the loss of the manufacturing base.
“The state budget is a short-term thing, a fiscal thing – you do that every year," Officer said. "Whereas fundamental reforms that the governor wants are a long-term thing.”
Officer said being able to bring back some of those jobs might reduce the tax obligation of the state’s remaining residents.
“Logically, you could say, ‘If we really increase the growth of Illinois, increase the income, then we could have more monies to be taxed and not have to increase (the) tax rate because there’ll be more people working, more companies here, and we can tax them at present level, maybe even reduce the tax rate,'" he said.
Once the manufacturing job-issue is addressed, he said, the state can again focus on its economic strengths.
“Illinois has a lot of potential; we mustn’t overstate that," he said. "Illinois has a manufacturing base that still exists; it has services; it has a thriving financial sector; (and) it has some very good universities -- among the best in the world."