State unemployment hits highest level in 15 years

Tim Landis

Official recession or not, a 7.3 percent unemployment rate for the state of Illinois last month was the highest level in nearly 15 years.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich was among those quick to weigh in on the numbers, which were released Thursday.

“I was disappointed to see that again the national economic crunch has weighed heavily on industries critical to Illinois’ economy,” the governor said in a statement referring to job losses in construction, finance and manufacturing.

Blagojevich again used the latest economic data to call for legislative approval of his stalled capital plan to create construction jobs. The governor also said progress in the General Assembly this week has made him more optimistic his Illinois Works program can be approved.

Job losses were spread across a number of industries in the past year, with construction, finance and manufacturing hardest hit. It marked the third month in a row year-to-year job losses increased in Illinois.

The 7.3 percent rate in July was the highest since September 1993 and also was well above the 5.7 percent national rate.

University of Illinois economist J. Fred Giertz said the latest figures are evidence that the nationwide problems in housing and the finance industry have spread to Illinois after the state avoided the worst of the problems for much of 2007.

But he said neither the nation nor the state is technically in recession. In fact, he said rising unemployment typically comes near the end of a slowdown.

“We’re certainly in a significant slowdown, and, traditionally, rising unemployment is a lagging indicator,” said Giertz.

A slow economy often means an increase in applications for the Lincoln Land Community College truck-driver training program, said director Bob Howard, though he said cuts in federal training funds might have discouraged applicants this year.

“When the job market is bad, people are drawn to truck driving. It’s a way to make the $30,000 to $40,000 that they lost,” said Howard. “The downside is, to get that coming out of truck-driving school, you have to get one or two years of over-the-road experience to be eligible for what I call the great local jobs.”

He said a new class of six students starts the four-week program every two weeks. A night class starts every six weeks.

Howard recalled he went through his own layoff when the old Pillsbury Mills plant in Springfield closed in the early ’90s.

“We no longer have that single, large employer that’s going to hire you right out of high school. Most of those jobs are gone,” he said.

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536

Job losses and gains, July 2007-July 2008 in Illinois


--Construction, 10,000

--Financial services, 6,000

--Manufacturing, 5,500

--Consumer services, 1,200

--Information, 600

--Mining, 200


--Education and health care, 11,100

--Trade (includes retail), transportation and utilities, 5,500

--Professional business services, 5,900

--Leisure and hospitality, 600

--Government, 300

Source: Illinois Department of Employment Security