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Illinois' unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent in April, improving for the 15th consecutive month on the strength of new jobs in manufacturing and trade, transport and utilities, state labor officials said Thursday.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security called the new figures encouraging but warned that they aren't a definitive sign that Illinois' economy has finally turned a corner. A Federal Reserve economist, though, said increases in manufacturing job were a reflection of a relatively healthy Midwestern recovery from the recent recessions.
The April rate was down one-tenth of a percentage point from March and is the lowest state jobless rate since February 2009, when it was 8.6 percent. The national unemployment rate for April rose .2 percent to 9 percent
"Long-term trends show our economy continues to steadily improve," Department of Employment Security acting Director Theresa P. Larkin said. "But no recovery is marked by a straight upward line. Even with a growing recovery, slight up-and-down movement in the unemployment rate and job creation is to be expected."
Illinois added 9,900 jobs in April but there still were 575,300 Illinoisans without jobs.
Illinois' trade, transportation and utilities companies -- the largest employer in the state at 1.14 million jobs -- added 4,700 jobs in the month, more than any other sector. Manufacturers added 4,200 jobs and construction added 1,700 jobs.
Linked growth in manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities -- firms that in many cases provide services to manufacturers -- has been boosted across the Midwest by several factors, among them high crop prices that lead farmers to buy heavy equipment made by Illinois-based companies like Caterpillar Inc. and Deere & Co., said William Testa, a Chicago-based economist with the Federal Reserve.
"The second factor for the Midwest is the global economy recovered (from the recession) before the U.S.," he said. "South America and Asia recovered first, so the exports have been growing robustly."
Peoria-based Caterpillar announced Thursday that its April sales were up 66 percent over a year ago, a figure Chief Financial Officer Edward Rapp attributed in in large part to demand in the developing world. Moline-based Deere said Wednesday that its profit in the quarter that included April was up 65 percent because of demand for agricultural equipment.
Illinois construction businesses also added 1,700 jobs in April and government jobs -- the largest group of jobs in Illinois at 853,000 -- increased by 3,400.
State economists aren't yet sure why those industries added jobs or where, Department of Employment Security spokesman Greg Rivara said. They suspect the government jobs are at the local level.
Employment in the state's information-related firms fell in April by 1,600 jobs and professional and business services companies shed 1,400 positions.
Some of the jobs lost by business services firms, Testa said, could be temporary workers who had been working in manufacturing and were hired by those industrial firms. In that case their jobs would shift from the former category to the latter.
Many manufacturers have used temp workers as the economy picked up over the past 12-14 months, Rivara said.
"They don't have enough resources onhand to meet that increase (in demand)," he said. "They're not yet confident enough to hire full time so they look into the temporary labor pool."
State economists aren't yet clear if extensive flooding in southern Illinois significantly affected employment in April, he said.
Data released Thursday does not include information on employment at the county or metro areas. That information will be released next Thursday.
David Mercer can be reached at http://twitter.com/(hash)!/DavidMercerAP