CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Illinois' unemployment rate fell again in September, dropping to 6.6 percent in a seventh straight month of improvement, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said Friday.
The drop was small, from 6.7 percent in August, but continued a sharp decline from just a year earlier, when the jobless rate was 9.1 percent.
The monthly unemployment report predictably drew cheers from Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and reminders from his Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, that most other U.S. states have lower unemployment rates. The state's employment picture and economy have become regular issues in the campaign ahead of next month's election.
Friday's report said that the state added 19,300 jobs since August and has added a net 69,000 jobs over the past year.
"That does not suggest that we've arrived. There still is more work to be done. But when you look at unemployment falling for seven months in a row, you look at fewer people describing themselves as unemployed," the trend is positive, department spokesman Greg Rivara said.
Quinn said the months of improvement have Illinois in a stronger position than any time since he took office in 2009 as the recession dragged on.
"We have more people working in Illinois than any other time since I've been governor," Quinn said at a Chicago-based chocolate company, Vosges Haut-Chocolat, which received a state grant and plans to increase its work force over the next year.
Rauner criticized Quinn for not leading Illinois past its neighbors.
"Any monthly job growth is welcome news, but under Pat Quinn, Illinois' unemployment rate continues to trail most of our neighboring states and far too many people remain out of work," Rauner said in an emailed statement.
Among neighboring states, only Michigan and Kentucky have had higher jobless rates in recent months.
A University of Illinois economist, however, noted the delayed recovery in Illinois at least in part reflects the fact that unemployment didn't immediately rise in the state with the recession. Seven straight months of decreases amount to real improvement, Fred Giertz said.
"It looks encouraging. It's moving down and that's what we've been waiting for," said Giertz, who works at the university's Institute of Government & Public Affairs. "It's a huge (drop) from 9 percent to that 6 percent range in just a year."
Friday's report highlighted continued changes in one of the state's key employment sectors, manufacturing.
Manufacturing jobs fell in September by a net 2,800.
"Manufacturing has two significant challenges — the continued slump in heavy machinery, mining, and more recently, sales in large farm equipment," Rivara said.
Those areas hit two major Illinois companies. Peoria-based Caterpillar is a major maker of mining equipment and has laid off workers as a result of the slump. And Moline-based Deere & Company is among the world's biggest makers of farm equipment. Deere announced two rounds of layoffs in Illinois and other states in August.
But a net increase of 6,500 Illinois jobs in the category known as professional and business services was driven primarily by manufacturers hiring temporary employees. Many manufacturers have hired temp workers since the recession, apparently reluctant to commit to the greater costs of adding full-time company staff.
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