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Got two degrees? That might not be enough if you're a person of color looking for work in Illinois.

Got two degrees? That might not be enough if you're a person of color looking for work in Illinois.

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There's no denying it's been a slow recovery since the 2008 Recession.

But while the U.S. economy is making a comeback – the national unemployment rate hit a 16-year-low in May – not every American is feeling the turnaround.

Veronica Appleton is a 28-year-old advertising professional in Chicago. She has two degrees and is currently pursuing a doctorate degree in organizational leadership. When she started undergrad at Purdue University in 2006, there was no wavering between majors. She said she knew exactly what she wanted to study: advertising and public relations. While she was there she even felt inspired to test her creative writing skills and has now authored a children's book. And when she graduated, she was ready to hit the ground running on her job search.

"I felt as if I was provided with the tools to do exactly what I wanted to do," Appleton told Circa. "The unfortunate piece is when I did graduate, although it was a great time, you find yourself in a position where it's hard to find employment. It's really hard to get that opportunity that you've been searching for... and then the reality really sets in."

For her, that reality meant a long, two-year job hunt before being able to break into the advertising world. "You're actually getting out there, you're interviewing, and you're saying, 'Wow, I'm not getting hired,'" she said.

"You're actually getting out there, you're interviewing, and you're saying, 'Wow, I'm not getting hired.'"
Victoria Appleton


Still, Appleton, who is African American and grew up in Chicago, is an exception.

The truth is minorities are facing a different economic reality. In the first quarter of 2017, the national unemployment rate for Hispanics was 5.9 percent, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For African Americans, it was 8.1 percent. The rate for white Americans was a scant 4.3 percent, while the total national average rate was 4.9 percent.

Economic recovery in Illinois has been sluggish. "Our debts are too high and our job creation is too weak," Michael Lucci, vice president of policy at Illinois Policy Institute, told Circa.

The state is on the brink of bankruptcy as it's financial standing falters and it's mound of unpaid bills balloons to $14 billion. The ragged economy has meant services such as education, health care and public safety have taken a hit.

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"When this type of situation happens, the vulnerable communities are the ones that get hit hardest," Lucci said.

"When this type of situation happens, the vulnerable communities are the ones that get hit hardest."
Michael Lucci

In Illinois, the unemployment rate for black residents hovered around 12.7 percent in 2016. That's more than double the state's overall rate, according to BLS data. There's a stark contrast between Chicago's glitzy Michigan Avenue and the city's grittier neighborhoods.

"You can visually homelessness in Chicago when you take public transportation, when you're walking down the street and my heart literally sinks," Appleton said. "Living in the heart of it, you tend to experience it more on a daily or weekly basis. And you see the struggles that people are facing."

In addition to a high unemployment rate, Illinois has lost the most college student to other states and that number appears to be accelerating. "We see young people, whether they’re going to college or they’re not going to college, they’re leaving Illinois," Lucci said. "And now in particular we see that the black youth is leaving the state very rapidly."

Between 2000 and 2014, according to data collected by the Illinois Policy Institute, an estimated 195,000 students left Illinois for cheaper options and brighter job prospects.

"So how do you provide the resources that are really needed for a community to thrive?" Appleton asks, adding that it, "creates an interesting paradigm for people, for young people looking for direction."

For Appleton, coming back to Illinois meant coming home and stepping back into Chicago's economy has only fueled her desire to give back. She currently works in recruitment, specifically in the diversity and inclusion division.

"It really hurts me because deep down inside I feel like I need to be doing something more," Appleton said. That's why in her free time, she's writing "new stories, new children's books to inspire kids who look like me to go further and to be inspired and to see themselves in the books they read."

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