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Unemployment up to 9 percent in January

CHAMPAIGN (AP) – Illinois’ unemployment rose to 9 percent in January, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday, blaming the increase in part on the continuing weak recovery from the recession.

The figure was up from 8.7 percent in December and back to almost the 9.1 percent rate of January 2012.

Department officials also said the numbers in Thursday’s report show that some of the state’s hundreds of thousands of unemployed people who had stopped looking for work may be growing more optimistic about the state employment situation.

The number of people who are unemployed – up 22,900 to 594,800 – increased even in a month when the state actually added a net 7,100 jobs. The unemployment rate only measures people actively looking for work.

“What it decidedly tells us is more people are entering the workforce,” department spokesman Greg Rivara said. “For January, the number of jobs created was not enough to absorb all the people entering or re-entering the labor force.

“I’m not diminishing the significance of that number,” he said, referring to the unemployment rate, but “you have more people working or looking for work than you did a year ago.”

The biggest job losses were among companies in the trade, transportation and utilities sector, where the state lost a net 5,500 jobs in January. Government agencies also shed a net 1,500 jobs.

The effects of the recent mandatory federal cuts are uncertain, department Director Jay Rowell said.

“As cuts from sequestration are implemented during the next few months, we will have a better idea on how federal fiscal policy will impact Illinois,” he said in a news release.

Some sectors added positions. Educational and health services employers accounted for the bulk of the net gain with 5,500 jobs.

Illinois’ unemployment rate continues to track about 1 percentage point higher than the national rate, which was 7.9 percent in January.

The Department of Employment Security typically releases monthly statewide employment data a couple weeks after the end of a month. The agency waits longer to release January numbers while it waits for annual revisions in 2012 data.

The unemployment report for February will be released in two weeks.

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