- Associated Press - Thursday, June 19, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Illinois’ unemployment rate fell to 7.5 percent in May, its lowest level since 2008, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

The May jobless rate is down from 7.9 percent in April. Illinois still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, but the department noted that the state jobless rate has now dropped for three consecutive months.

Department officials called the results encouraging.

“The rate falling to 7.5 percent is significant,” spokesman Greg Rivara said.

He pointed out that the trend of generally falling unemployment rates in the state dates back well beyond this year, but said the decreases of the past few months have been sharp after the brutal winter slowed the economy. The state jobless rate has fallen from 8.7 percent since January.

The national unemployment rate for May was 6.3 percent. While May rates are not yet available for all 50 states, Illinois’ unemployment rate was lower than only Nevada’s and Rhode Island’s in April, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The total number of unemployed people in Illinois fell 4.6 percent in May, to 492,400. That number, though, only includes the unemployed who are still actively seeking work.

Illinois added a net 2,100 construction jobs in May, 2,700 educational and health services jobs, and 2,800 government jobs.

The state’s key manufacturing sector continued to struggle.

Well over half-a-million people in Illinois work in manufacturing. The companies that employ them have cut a net 11,400 jobs over the last year, a decrease of 2 percent. That drop continued in May, with a decrease of 1,600 jobs.

Manufacturers around the world, Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. among them, have been cutting jobs over the past year or more as demand for goods such as Cat’s mining equipment has fallen.

“Given the short-term trends with global manufacturing, that number is not surprising,” Rivara said.

Employers in the professional and business services sector cut a net 6,300 jobs in May. The number includes 3,500 temporary employees, more than half of them blue-collar workers whose positions could have been lost as part of the downturn in manufacturing, Rivara said.

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