Job Hunt

A Midwest Mecca’s Job Prospects Wane

Chicago’s job growth is lagging. But long-term prospects could help the Windy City regain its labor crown.

If you’ve ever tried to adjust your waistband after splurging on some deep-dish pizza, then you’ll have a sense of the current job market in the town that developed the decadent pie. That’s because, over the past year, Chicago’s job market has tightened dramatically.

Among the 12 largest cities in America, Chicago’s 0.8% growth in employment comes in last, trailing first-place Houston by nearly three percentage points. It also lags the overall US employment growth rate of 1.7%.

Private employment now stands at its highest mark Chicago has seen since 1991. 

“It doesn’t feel that way,” says Liz Traines, a career coach in Chicago, while discussing the employment growth numbers. People are definitely finding roles, she continues, but “are they the right roles? No.”

Meaning, with fewer new opportunities, those who are looking for positions may not find the perfect fit, which often happens in tightening job markets. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t quality options within one’s reach. Here’s how to manage expectations when looking for a new role in the Windy City.

Chicago enjoyed a strong growth spurt.

Before you panic, it’s important to note that the tightening of the Chicago job market only started to take place over the past year. From 2010 to mid-2017, the number of jobs grew from 1.01 million in Chicago central to 1.18 million, creating a 16.8% boost in the number of roles available. That mark surpassed the average across the United States, which saw a growth rate of 15.7%.

That said, markets can only sustain stellar growth numbers for so long, and the forward momentum was the result of an economy bouncing back after the recession. Private employment now stands at the highest mark Chicago has seen since 1991. The result: since the city is essentially at peak employment, there isn’t a lot of shifting going on, which means there’s only one way to go in the cycle now.

Certain sectors remain robust.

Though Chicago’s market as a whole may see some tightening, that doesn’t mean every sector is down. Jobs in finance, professional business services, and educational services have all seen a boost in their outlooks, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Looking forward to 2026, a report by the state of Illinois projects professional business service positions will jump by 16%. Healthcare roles are expected to see 13% growth, and educational services jobs will move forward by 9%.

Digging deeper, Traines says she sees a lot of clients finding a place in fintech companies. The field has become a staple of the Midwest epicenter. Last year, Deloitte named Chicago as one of the top five “fintech hubs” across the globe, with 20,000 organizations in the space hiring 6% of the local workforce.

Tightening opportunities haven’t hit paychecks.

A big fear of a slow-growing hiring climate is that paychecks will get hit. After all, fewer opportunities mean more people looking for jobs, giving companies more quality candidates to choose from. The basic supply-and-demand formula means that a growing supply could crimp paychecks. But that hasn’t happened so far, with total compensation in the city growing by 3.5%, compared to 2.9% nationally—giving Chicago one of the strongest growth in pay numbers of any large city in America.

You can shape your own role.

If opportunities continue to tighten, career pros say it could be a good time to reshape your role that could work for both your personality and the needs of the organization. It’s about creating something for yourself “that’s tailored to what you love,” Traines says.

This strategy allows you to test skills you may not be able to utilize in your current role, including navigating office politics and showcasing your management abilities to higher-ups. It also allows you to “make the best of what you got right now,” Traines says. At least until that better position frees up.

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