Illinois unemployment rises to 10 percent in September

Marks the 5th consecutive monthly increase

October 21, 2011

By David Mercer, Associated Press

(Getty File/Justin Sullivan)

Unemployment in Illinois rose in September for a fifth straight month and hit 10 percent for the first time since August 2010, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

The agency blamed the increase on continued weakness in consumer confidence nationwide but noted a sharp drop in construction jobs in September. Industry experts pointed to the state government's poor financial situation, saying a multibillion-dollar budget deficit is holding back government construction spending.

The federal government earlier this month said national unemployment for September was 9.1 percent. That was unchanged from August. The state rate was 9.9 percent in August.

"Consumer confidence drives the national economy and affects our economic growth here in Illinois," department Director Jay Rowell said. "A broader confidence must be restored at the national level before individual states will show greater widespread growth."

The Conference Board, the private group that tracks American consumer confidence, says Americans remained pessimistic in September after a sharp drop in the board's index in August.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley says that lack of faith extends to employers, and blames at least a part of the problem on the federal government. Disagreements over the federal debt ceiling and unwillingness to work together on just about anything are weighing on the economy, he said.

"Most of the private sector employers and business people are looking for stability, and we're looking for leadership," Whitley said. "And I don't think the members of Congress have figured out they are a problem."

The Department of Employment Security says Illinois employers created 1,600 new jobs in September. But the number of unemployed people increased to 663,300, 10,500 more than in August and an increase of 1.6 percent. State unemployment rates do not include people who haven't looked for work in the previous month, so the real number of unemployed, while not tracked at the state level, is higher.

The biggest job losses were among construction employers, who cut 3,000 jobs in September, from 205,200 jobs to 202,200.

That loss bucked a national trend of improving construction employment, noted last month by the Association if General Contractors. The trade group said improving prospects were being driven by nonresidential private-sector construction.

But the Builders Association, an AGC affiliate that follows construction in the Chicago area, said the September job losses in Illinois likely were driven by a lack of government spending on construction.

"The economic problems in Illinois don't lend themselves to doing a lot of public construction," Builders Association President Albert Leitschuh, said, referring to the state's multibillion-dollar government budget deficit. "I don't know that we're going to recover from a construction perspective for a while yet."

Other sectors that shed jobs in September included the state's financial services employers (a cut of 1,800 jobs down to 355,400) and among information-related workers (1,200 jobs lost down to 355,400.

The biggest increase was among employers of educational and health services workers, who added 4,900 jobs in September for a total 854,500.
Those positions don't include public elementary, middle and high school teachers who may have gone back to work — they're considered government workers — but would include many people who work in higher education, Department of Employment Security spokesman Greg Rivara said.

"Now that school is back in session, you have the food service workers, the concession-stand workers," he said. "All of those student jobs that are directly tied to the university."

Government jobs — among the biggest employment sectors in Illinois with about 840,000 workers — held steady in September after several months of mostly losses.

Local governments strapped by the recession and often waiting for promised state money that isn't being delivered on time have been cutting jobs over the past year — more than 13,000 over the past year, according to the department.

Rivara said it's too early to say whether September's figures mean that trend has ended.