State of the Workforce in Chicago

The workforce in Chicago is both shrinking and aging, but the labor participation rate has increased, according to recent reports. While the former is worrisome, the latter is a positive reflection of the fact that the city is creating jobs at a higher rate than it was before.

Since there are seemingly more available jobs, you might wonder why the unemployment rate has counterintuitively increased as well. To understand why, we think it’s important to consider the state of the workforce in Chicago and look at the barriers to employment that working-class residents have to face.

For example, the construction industry in Chicago provides numerous opportunities to employment for a range of positions, including entry-level ones. But entering the industry is not as easy as you may think. It’s way too challenging and confusing to get into the union, and even more so if you don’t have any connections in the industry.

Collaboration is needed so that employers can place job-seekers into suitable positions and help increase the employment rate in Chicago. It’s not easy to change the narrative of Chicago, but organizations like Lakeside Alliance are leading the way to decreasing barriers to employment and uplifting the workforce in Chicago.

Another barrier we have to acknowledge is mental health–– trauma is real in Chicago. Trauma affects confidence and ties soft skills. About a third of residents have dealt with trauma in Chicago, and these are the people who make up our workforce.

Mental health seriously affects a person’s motivation, and fear of rejection can hinder people who want a job to actively pursue positions they may wrongly feel underqualified for. Rejection hurts, and it’s tough to bounce back from it.

More than half of Chicago’s mental health clinics were shut down in 2012, and the city has since only reopened about 6. Better care for the people who make up Chicago’s workforce would logically lead to more workforce participation.

Chicago’s workforce also faces challenges of transportation. We need to innovate this! The solution to someone’s transportation obstacle is to travel to another place to get a bus card or a CTA card–– the irony in this is almost laughable.

Accessible, apparent and available public transportation is crucial for cities like Chicago. Chicago needs the advantages of ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber that other cities have, and it needs CTA to function reliably and seamlessly. It’s time for Chicago to address the challenge of transportation, because Chicago’s workforce needs to get to work.

Employers are getting poached by the same nonprofits to the point that there is employer exhaustion. Data and reports show that there are plenty of jobs available, but we have to find a better system to match employers to employees in a quick and efficient manner.

The workforce of Chicago is the backbone of the city. We need to make sure that the challenges that they face every day are addressed–– we need to make sure we change the narrative of Chicago to one that supports and uplifts Chicago’s workers.

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