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Stocks rise as unemployment falls to 2-year low

State officials say the unemployment rate dropped in every Illinois metropolitan area in February for a record sixth consecutive month, to 9 percent.  That's compared to an 8.8 percent rate nationwide, slightly lower than the 8.9 predicted by economists. A report issued yesterday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security also showed 39,400 jobs were added in the Chicago area over the year. Private companies created most new jobs.

The Rockford metropolitan area still has the state's highest unemployment rate, at 13.6 percent. That's down slightly from January, but more than 4 percentage points lower than the same time last year. The Kankakee-Bradley metropolitan area jobless rate was second-highest, at 13.1 percent, in February, down 2.7 percentage points from last year. The lowest unemployment rates for February were 7.4 percent in the Bloomington-Normal area and 8.1 percent in the Springfield area.

Stocks are rising in early trading after a report showed that the unemployment rate fell to a two-year low in March. The dollar is surging on signs of improvement in the U.S. labor market.

Though the government said Friday that the economy added 216,000 new jobs last month, this has meant rising gasoline prices as more workers join the daily commute. Friday's jobs report sent the dollar sharply higher against major currencies, and that weighed on crude prices earlier in the day.

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