- Associated Press - Thursday, July 17, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Illinois’ unemployment rate fell to 7.1 percent in June, driven to its lowest level since October 2008 by a fourth straight month of improvement, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

The monthly unemployment report showed evidence of potential improvement in the state’s long-troubled housing construction industry, but also more bad news from manufacturers.

Illinois’ jobless rate fell from 7.5 percent in May. June’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since October 2008, when unemployment stood at 7 percent.

“Today’s news is good by any calculation. The employment rate is at a six-year low,” Department of Employment Security spokesman Greg Rivara said, though he acknowledged many people remain out of work. “If you’re among that 7.1 percent, you are still looking for help.”

The national unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in June, according to the federal government. Employers have added about 208,000 jobs a month over the past year - nearly 2.5 million in all and distributed across a number of industries.

But Illinois has lagged behind the nation in recovering from the recession, with the state’s unemployment rate among the worst in the country for months.

Thursday’s report provides signs that Illinois may be starting to catch up.

Construction companies added 3,500 jobs in June, an increase of 1.8 percent.

“The bulk of that increase came in specialty trade contractors,” Rivara said. “Companies that are building houses and apartments and dwellings.”

That follows a report from the Illinois Association of Realtors late last month that noted home prices are starting to rise and inventories are dropping.

Manufacturers in the state, however, cut employment by a net 1,500 jobs in June, a drop of less than 1 percent. Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. has laid off thousands of employees since late 2012 as it struggles with a slowdown in demand for mining equipment and other heavy machinery.

“The global slowdown in heavy machinery really is touching Illinois,” Rivara said.


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