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Unemployment in Illinois drops to 5-year low of 8.4 percent, still among highest rates in US

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CHICAGO — Unemployment in Illinois dropped in March to 8.4 percent, the lowest level since 2009, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday.

Unemployment was down from 8.7 percent in February. But the department noted that new-job creation was still down for the month by about 3,200 jobs. That's a drop of less than 1 percent.

Still, department Director Jay Rowell called the drop encouraging.

"Today's drop in the unemployment rate highlights significant progress in our state," Rowell said in a news release. "Our monthly numbers will continue to show uneven but measurable progress."

He said the monthly data showed signs that consumer confidence, a key driver of the country's economy, was improving. The Conference Board, the private group that tracks consumer confidence, said late last month that Americans were growing more optimistic about the economy.

Illinois' jobless rate hasn't been as low as 8.4 percent since January 2009. But the state still has one of the highest rates in the country.

March unemployment rates for all 50 states aren't yet available from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, but in February only one state had a higher level of unemployment than Illinois. That was Rhode Island at 9 percent.

Leisure and hospitality employers led March's improvement. They added a net 4,300 jobs.

Information-related companies added 1,300 jobs.

Construction companies cut their employment by 2,800 jobs and professional and business services firms cut a net 2,100 positions.

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