According to figures released April 1 by the Illinois Department of Employment Security, 2,485 Evanston residents were unemployed in February, down 280 from January. Unemployment is still elevated however; February levels are 2.4 times higher than one year ago. 

The unemployment rate for Evanston was 6.8% in February, more than double the rate of 2.8% a year ago, but down 80 basis points from last month.

Unemployment figures had been declining since the peak in June, but virus outbreaks in late fall, together with restrictions on businesses, stymied economic recovery and job growth across the U.S., Illinois, Chicago, and Evanston in November and December. February’s decline represents the first sequential monthly improvement since October 2020. 

Evanston’s unemployment rate is significantly lower than Cook County’s – where almost one in 10 workers is unemployed – and slightly lower than the Illinois state average of 7.8%.

This “official” unemployment rate, U3, is a narrow measure of unemployment. U3 defines unemployed as people who are willing and able to work and have actively sought employment within the past four weeks. 

U6, a broader measure of unemployment that includes discouraged and under-employed workers, is much higher but not reported for individual cities. For the U.S., U6 was 11.1% in February or 490 basis points higher than the official rate of 6.2%. Assuming the same relationship locally suggests a U6 unemployment rate of 11.7% in Evanston.

Combining the decline in the Evanston labor force in February 2021 versus 2020 (about 1,817 people) to the U3 number of unemployed residents (2,485), may give a truer picture of the number of people struggling in Evanston: 3,252 residents.

Fewer Evanston residents were unemployed in February than during the peak months of the great recession 10 years ago.  The number of unemployed people in Evanston rose steadily through June 2009, remained above 3,000 for more than a year, and peaked at 3,590 in July 2010.