DECATUR — The Decatur metro area added 500 jobs in May, marking the fifth straight month of recorded job growth in the area.
The Decatur area, which includes all of Macon County, had a total of 51,800 non-farm jobs in May, up from 51,300 the previous year, according to preliminary data released Thursday afternoon by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Illinois Department of Employment Security. Decatur’s unemployment rate in May was 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in May 2017.
"We always say everything starts with jobs, and that foundational number is moving in the right direction," said Ryan McCrady, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Decatur and Macon County.
While retail is shrinking everywhere, job growth in manufacturing and healthcare fields shows that people in the area can become re-employed, he said.
"It's a good time for jobs, but we need to build our workforce and that's what we're focusing on right now," said Rocki Wilkerson, executive director of Workforce Investment Solutions, a county agency that administers federal and state job training programs. "Right now my focus is to build the workforce, that becomes even more intense when you know employers need to hire."
While Decatur's unemployment rate was down, it remains the second-highest in all of Illinois’ 14 metro areas, topped only by Danville, at 5.1 percent.
Communities across the state saw unemployment rate decreases, and Illinois' overall unemployment rate was 3.5 percent, dropping from 4.4 percent a year ago.
"I think the one thing to take away is the downstate numbers over the past year have been better over, say, last year," said Bob Gough, public information office for the Illinois Department of Employment Security. "Last year, most of the positive news was generated out of Chicago. Now Chicago is pretty solid, but now downstate is seeing some pickup as well."
The numbers suggest that the improved unemployment picture reflects a genuine strengthening of the labor market, and not merely a result of people who stopped looking for work or left the area for employment elsewhere, said Tom Austin, also from IDES.
"We have seen declines in the number of unemployed, so some may have left the labor force or moved elsewhere, but when we look at the employment data we see more people are employed," Austin said.
The unemployed are those out of work but looking for employment. The number is not tied to unemployment benefits.
Tom Lisi and Jaylyn Cook of the Herald & Review, and the Rockford Register Star contributed to this report.