What and Who’s Not Working: Employment in Monmouth

Monmouth businesses prepare for the Holiday Season.

As businesses everywhere struggle to find employees, some people in small communities like Monmouth struggle to find job opportunities. Lack of education, higher paying jobs, housing, childcare, transportation, and business development contribute to this and other communities’ job opportunity problems. Both citizens and businesses are left struggling in the wake of these factors.

“People around here generally have to rely on a job that requires a college education, which isn’t always available to everyone here. Especially since our closest college being Monmouth College is a fairly pricey private college and so then people have to kind of look elsewhere like the factories, like Smithfield, and those aren’t exactly pleasant jobs,” said Patte Executive Director of the Warren County History Museum Sarah Nevling,.

Monmouth, Ill. is a rural town with a population of approximately 8,771 people. It is home to Monmouth College, which has an attendance of 753 students. Despite having over 9,000 residents most of the year, many Monmouth businesses struggle to find employees.

“With COVID and the lack of new faces in town, all businesses are looking for people to work. Not many businesses can afford to pay an abnormally high hourly rate or salary, so we (business owners) are always competing to keep the employees we do get, and they always have a choice to switch, which they do quite often,” said Theresa Jones, an employee of the local business, Pepperoni’s Pizza.

Of the jobs that are available in Monmouth, most aren’t jobs that citizens are looking for, or qualified for.

“I don’t think it’s that the opportunities aren’t there. I think it’s that companies and businesses aren’t willing to pay what people are willing to earn for the work that they have to do,” said Nevling.

Monmouth College brings in a host of young people who fill out job applications and seek out employers to work minimum wage jobs, but “I am always struggling to find employees over the summer and breaks when students aren’t here,” said Jones.

The lack of affordable housing, particularly for middle income families, further perpetuates the issue.

“There aren’t high quality spaces … to buy or rent at all in regards to housing,” said owner of Maude Speckleberry, a local boutique.

“We did a housing study finished back in 2018. So it’s only four years old and it showed that we have a demand for between 75 and 90 new single family homes,” says Lew Steinbrecher, the city administrator.

Steinbrecher said since the study, the city has been working to find a developer to bring a new single family subdivision, which should free up some of the older properties in town that might be more affordable for middle and lower income families. With a developer and builder on board, the last hurdle is land. Steinbrecher believes they have a local farmer interested in selling the land. He hopes the city can officially announce this project in the spring.

However, housing isn’t the only barrier between residents and jobs.

“Childcare is a huge issue right now because there is just no daycare for people that want to go to work to be able to go to work. It’s a roadblock to some people entering the workforce right now, especially after COVID,” said Lisa Torrence, director of the University of Illinois Extension office for Henderson, Knox, Warren, and McDonough counties.

Smithfield, a pork processing plant, provides many well-paying jobs but most of these open jobs are third shift and that poses serious childcare problems.

“They [Smithfield] have good jobs that are 3rd shift jobs that they would love to fill and there are people who would like to take them but what are you gonna do with your kids at night? We definitely don’t have any night daycares, that’s something that none of these communities have,” said Torrence.

Beyond childcare and housing, many people need reliable transportation.

“Many families have just one car, and let us say dad works at Smithfield, he is gone all day with the car and mom is only able to use the buses in Warren County and those are limited,” says Jenna Link, Administrator for Warren County Health Dept.

This leads to many families being reduced to a single income because they have no way to get to multiple jobs.

Also, businesses in smaller communities have trouble with finding attractive spaces to develop. According to Steinbrecher, the city has received grants for city beautification and infrastructure. “You’re gonna see close to $5 million in the next year or two going downtown and it’s really going to change the appearance of the town of Monmouth,” said Steinbrecher.

In the cities plan, some of this money will be allotted to new business buildings, homes, and other efforts to increase city jobs.

Kylie McDonald, Haley Melton, Jake Rathgeb

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