Peaks and valleys in the jobless rate across the state have been perceived as a sign Illinois was struggling to pull itself out of quicksand of recession.
The question now is whether that will happen soon.
Although unemployment nationally has fallen from a high of 10 percent in 2009 to 7 percent in November, Illinois retains the fourth-highest jobless rate among the states. Central Illinois, still staggering from years of industry closures, is faring even worse.
The unemployment problem in Illinois is evidenced in a rate that is nearly 2 points higher than the national average.
In East St. Louis, nearly 15 percent of eligible workers are without jobs. Danville, Kankakee, Decatur . all above 13 percent.
Although still in single digits, Madison County and most of its neighbors saw increases in unemployment in November from the month prior. Madison County unemployment was at 8.2 percent, up from 7.6 percent the month before and from 8.1 percent one year ago.
The extent of the problem can be misleading, though, when looking strictly at the number of people who are receiving unemployment benefits. At the end of the year, an estimated 80,000 people in Illinois were taken off those rolls not because of finding work, but because of the expiration of extended benefits.
Those benefits provided relief beyond the standard six months, up to 47 weeks for many out-of-work people.
Nationally, 1.3 million people were affected.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate believe there could be a vote on continuing the extension, perhaps this week. But few Republican senators are supporting the idea.
Some call it a “tough love” approach — force people off the support system and they will have more incentive to find work.
That’s a myopic view of a multi-faceted problem. While it does cause numbers to go down — because many people will just give up and vanish from the workforce — it creates a different set of issues, such as continuing a cycle of bankruptcies and foreclosures that have managed to show some improvement.