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Unemployment should continue slow fall in 2014

In 2014, Illinois and other states in the U.S. are looking to continue adding jobs, and economists forecast a continued slow decrease in unemployment.

As of November, Illinois unemployment sits at 8.7 percent, fourth-highest in the country, while the national rate is 7 percent.

The state economy is gaining about 6,000 jobs a month, compared to the 18,000 jobs Illinois was losing per month during the height of the recession, said Greg Rivara, Illinois Department of Employment Security spokesman.

“That’s a big swing,” Rivara said.

Rivara attributes falling unemployment to an improved housing market, better debt ratios and increased consumer confidence – a factor helped by Congress’ recent budget deal.

He said he sees no reason that those trends won’t continue in 2014, continuing to drive down unemployment, albeit gradually, while growing the economy.

“You’d anticipate that growth is going to continue,” Rivara said.

Economist Fred Giertz of the University of Illinois agrees with the assessment that unemployment should continue to drop in the coming year.

But he tempered his enthusiasm.

“In essence, it’s good news with where we are now, but it’s not particularly good news with where we should be at this stage in an economic recovery,” Giertz said.

He anticipated that the national unemployment rate would drop below 7 percent, and that Illinois could dip below 8 percent, “if things go well.”

Some think the figure could be affected by Congress failing to pass an extension to its long-term unemployment benefits program, which expired Dec. 28.

Put into place in 2008, the benefits were providing federal help to those unemployed for between 27 and 73 weeks.

Even if an extension had passed, the final tier of benefits would have been cut out in Illinois, eliminating those unemployed for more than 63 weeks from the program, Rivara said.

Some national economists have projected that unemployment rates will quickly drop without the long-term benefits, as more people exit the labor force by simply giving up on finding work.

Rivara said his department hasn’t done projections to that end in Illinois, where about 80,000 residents were receiving the benefits.

But Giertz said the drop in benefits could potentially force the unemployed to find jobs quicker.

“It’s kind of like a tough-love situation,” he said.

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