Chicago region attracting — but not retaining — working age adults

A well-educated and talented resident pool provides the workforce needed to keep the economy thriving. As highlighted in a prior analysis, when the economy is healthy, residents are more likely to seek work and capitalize on increased economic opportunities. In contrast, when the economy is struggling, people can become discouraged and stop looking for work or quit working altogether.

Urban scene with pedestrians and vehicles in a town setting.

Demographic trends play a role in labor force trends. Long-term population stagnation and, in more recent years, small population declines in the Chicago region impact the size and quality of the workforce, which can impede regional economic growth. ON TO 2050 emphasizes the need for widespread, coordinated actions in workforce and economic development and in improving transportation options and access to meet the needs of working-age people.

Labor force participation is a key indicator of the region’s economic well-being. Labor force participation rate is defined as the share of all residents 16 years and older participating in the labor force — people who have or are seeking a job. When young and middle-aged adults grow older or move out of the region — known as outmigration — it influences labor force participation. Decline in the region’s prime working age population drives decline in the region’s labor force. This analysis assesses how demographic changes in the Chicago metropolitan region affect the workforce, highlighting an aging workforce, shrinking labor supply, outmigration of working age residents, and how labor force participation trends may at times mask adverse demographic trends.