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Illinois employment outlook: Workers secure, optimistic about futures

The job market in Illinois remains healthy, jobs are being created at a steady pace and we're not seeing widespread layoffsdespite the fact that state unemployment may be inching up again.

While the jobless rate across the U.S. was 4.5 percent in February, the rate in Illinois was 4.8 percent although this doesn't reflect whatever adjustments the Bureau of Labor Statistics might yet make. The last time unemployment reached this level was a year ago, in February 2006, when it was 4.9 percent. At that time, the state jobless rate was on its way down from levels in the 6 to 7 percent range. These figures report the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rates.

Drilling down to unemployment in our major metropolitan areas, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reports the following rates for February 2007: Bloomington-Normal, 4.2 percent; Champaign-Urbana, 4.4 percent; Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, 4.9 percent; Danville, 6.7 percent; Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, 4.9 percent; Decatur, 6.2 percent; Kankakee-Bradley, 7.3 percent; Lake-Kenosha, 5.8 percent; Peoria, 5.1 percent; Rockford, 6.6 percent; Springfield, 5.1 percent; and St. Louis, 6.8 percent. Interestingly, four of these rates are identical to a year ago, four are slightly lower and four slightly higher. But unemployment is only part of the picture. Employee attitudes lend some important color.

Spherion has been tracking employee attitudes on a monthly basis for more than two and a half years, and we've seen some changes recently in worker confidence. The overall Spherion Employee Confidence Index for Illinois was 61.2 in February, virtually unchanged from January's 61.5 Index and the third highest level in the past 13 months. However, if we break down the four components of the Index we find some mixed messages:

Economy. The number of Illinois workers who believe the economy is getting weaker rose 6 percent in February, from 29 to 35 percent.

Job availability. The number who believe that more jobs are available declined by 6 percent, from 30 to 24 percent.

Ability to find jobs. Worker confidence in their ability to find new employment was virtually unchanged at 60 percent (down 1 percentage from January).

Employers' future. On the good-news side of the equation, Illinois workers who are optimistic about the future of their employers rose 9 percent - jumping from 63 to 72 percent, almost three-quarters of the workforce.

Our monthly employment report also tracks what we call a Job Security Index and Job Transition Index.

The Job Security Index tells another good-news storywith an 11-point jump in the percentage of workers who feel it is unlikely that they will lose their jobs, or their jobs will be eliminated, in the next 12 months. This indicator rose from 71 to 82 percent in February, outpacing the overall U.S. Index (80 percent) by 2 percent. Only 11 percent of Illinois workers think it is likely they will lose their jobs in the next 12 months, down from 17 percent the previous month. That's eight of 10 workers in Illinois who feel secure in their jobs.

The Job Transition Index monitors how likely workers are to look for new jobs in the next 12 months. This indicator dropped four points in February, from 36 to 32 percent who say they intend to look for a new job. This also compares favorably with the overall U.S. number, which was 36 percent in February.

The bottom line is that most Illinoisans who want to work are working, feel a strong sense of job security and have confidence in their employers. Despite a somewhat shaky outlook on the economy, one-third plan to change jobs in the next 12 months, and that's going to have financial and administrative implications for their employers.

– Cindy Somers owns a Spherion Staffing Services location in Champaign. She can be reached at (217) 359-4488 or at cindysomers@spherion.com.

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