Unemployment rate holds steady; record high school graduation rate

Unemployment rate holds at 5.5%
The September jobs report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) found a net creation of 7,400 new Illinois payroll jobs for the month. In what is becoming a trend in Illinois, new job creation appeared to be mainly in the services sector. There were a total of 7,800 net new jobs created in professional, business, education, health, and other services sectors. In the manufacturing sector, Illinois lost a net of 800 jobs.

Compared to the rest of the nation, Illinois’ unemployment rate is slightly higher: coming in at 5.5% versus a nationwide rate of 5.1%. The findings also continue to reflect more Illinoisans leaving the labor market, either through giving up on looking for work or by moving out of state. Since the historic Illinois job peak in September 2000, not as many people have payroll jobs in Illinois, but the state is getting closer. Illinois has once again surpassed the six million figure for number of workers collecting paychecks, coming in at 6.02 million, just slightly behind the 2000 figure of 6.05 million. In total, fewer than ten percent of Illinois workers are employed in the manufacturing sector as employee headcount in that field came in at 567,900 in September.

U.S. sets record high school graduation rate, Illinois exceeds national average
The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that public high schools in the United States had achieved a record high school graduation rate last year, hitting a nationwide rate of 83.2%. Illinois was ahead of the national average, coming in with an 85.6% statewide graduation rate for students attending public high schools. The figures are for the 2014-2015 school year, the most recent data released by the National Center for Education Statistics. According to the Department, the figures are calculated based on “the percentage of students who graduate with a regular high school diploma within four years of starting 9th grade.”

Iowa led the nation with a 90.8% graduation rate. Illinois came in ahead of most other large states, including California (82%), New York (79.2%), Florida (77.9%), Pennsylvania (84.8%) and Ohio (80.7%).

Unpaid bills approaching $10 billion
The amount of bills awaiting payment from state coffers, which has hovered between $8 billion and $9 billion for several months now, has jumped above $9 billion. The state’s unpaid-bill level had reached $9.9 billion as of last week. More variations can be expected as new bills arrive and old ones are paid.

The Illinois Comptroller’s office manages the state’s cash flows. The Comptroller is charged with making payments reflecting the amount of money in the state’s checkbook on any given day. The Comptroller and her staff routinely recalculate and report the State’s General Funds Payables Backlog to the public as a way of informing Illinois citizens of the latest cash-flow position of state government.

Credit-monitoring firms and other interests also keep an eye on the state’s cash-flow position. A few weeks ago, Standard & Poor’s lowered its rating of Illinois’ general-obligation debt to ‘BBB’ with a negative outlook, which is approaching “junk-bond” level. The need for an end to budget gimmicks and partisan games is becoming more and more clear every day. The legislature reconvenes in a couple of weeks. I hope we can quickly get to work on a responsible, balanced budget.

Preventing lead poisoning in children
As part of the initiatives for National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, which occurs during the final week of October, the Governor’s Cabinet on Children and Youth unveiled a cross-agency program to take on the problem of childhood lead exposure. Childhood lead poisoning has been blamed for contributing to learning disabilities and developmental delays. The problem is especially widespread in Illinois, where more than 18,000 children tested in 2014 had lead levels in their blood that were at the federal public health intervention level or higher.

One of the main danger zones for children is deteriorating lead-based paint, as nearly two-thirds of Illinois housing units were built before the 1978 ban on lead paint. The Illinois Lead Program and the Illinois Department of Public Health have put together a list of precautions which parents and caregivers can take to protect their kids from the dangers of lead poisoning. Their recommendations can be found at www.dph.illinois.gov.

Illinois received federal grant to promote specialty agriculture
The Illinois Department of Agriculture has announced that it received an award of more than $520,000 in grants to develop Illinois specialty agriculture.  Much of the federal money will go to programs overseen by researchers at Illinois’ public universities. Those institutions are working with Illinois specialty crops, such as horseradish, vine crops, and wine grapes, to improve yields and find ways to fight back against pests. Vine crops include pumpkins, squash, and gourds, which have been grown in Illinois for hundreds of years. Over 106,000 acres of Illinois farmland are used to grow specialty crops, such as pumpkins and squash in the Peoria area.  Illinois leads the nation in production of pumpkins.

Did You Know?
Founded in 1857, Illinois State University in Normal was the first public higher learning institution in the state of Illinois. Some of its founding documents were drafted by Abraham Lincoln, who was working as an attorney for the Illinois Board of Education. In 2016, ISU set a record for freshman enrollment; the third year in a row it had done so. The school’s total enrollment is more than 21,000. Last year, ISU’s 73.4% graduation rate placed it in the top 10% in the nation.