CHICAGO — Illinois added 3,800 jobs in January, and the state unemployment rate fell for the fifth straight month to 9.4 percent, state officials said Thursday.
The 0.3 percentage point drop in the unemployment rate from December was the largest decline since September 1992, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The U.S. unemployment rate for January, though, was more than a full percentage point lower than Illinois' rate, at 8.4 percent.
State officials and outside experts alike were quick to caution that, even with Thursday's state report, the recovery continues to be slow.
"No one is seeing huge movements month to month, we are seeing trends," said employment department spokesman Greg Rivara.
Illinois has added 122,900 private sector jobs since January 2010, the first month that numbers increased after 23 consecutive months of declines. The state unemployment rate peaked that month at 11.4 percent.
"January 2010 is significant because that was the month that Illinois not only stopped losing jobs, it was also the month that the unemployment rate stopped going up," Rivara said.
The four leading growth industries since then are: professional and business services, educational and health services, manufacturing and trade and transportation and utilities.
Rivara said those industries' gains means there's reason for cautious optimism.
"We're moving in the right direction, that's what the data is showing us," he said.
University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz said the report showed that the recovery from the recession continues — but at a "painfully slow rate."
"The Illinois unemployment rate (while declining) is still really high both by historical standards and also in comparison with the U.S. rate," he said by email. "The job growth from last month is practically zero and there is little growth from one year ago."
The bulk of the job growth in business and professional services is in temporary manufacturing positions, as employers see they don't have the resources to meet increased demand but are "still not confident enough to make that full-time hire," Rivara said. More goods being produced means more things being shipped, driving the increase in transportation.
And educational and health services tend to weather recessions better than other industries, Rivara said.
"Regardless of how challenging the economy is, we're sending our kids to school," he said. "In challenging economies, adults may be returning to school."
Government jobs have been the hardest hit in the state since January 2010 with 24,700.
The number of unemployed in Illinois dropped by 18,100 in January to 620,300. The national unemployment rate for January was 8.3 percent.
The unemployment rate identifies people who are out of work and seeking employment.
David Mercer of The Associated Press contributed from Champaign.