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CARBONDALE — The Carbondale-Marion metro area created jobs at a higher rate than any other metropolitan region in the state over the last year, leading a statewide positive trend.

That’s according to new preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES).

For the first time since 2000, IDES reports, the number of non-farm jobs increased in all 14 Illinois metropolitan areas over the period from July 2018 to July 2019, with the Carbondale-Marion and Lake County-Kenosha areas at the front of the pack.

Both regions saw 2.3% increases in total jobs, thanks to a 1,300 job bump in Carbondale and Marion and a 9,900 job bump in the Lake County area.

The Harrisburg and Olney-Mt. Carmel areas also added about 600 jobs each, the BLS found.

Statewide, the 78,100 new jobs recorded by the BLS represent the biggest July-to-July growth since July 2015, when the state recorded 105,300 new jobs over the year prior.

To SIU Carbondale Professor John Jackson, the growth represents an incremental step in the economic recovery from the two-year state budget impasse.

“The Fiscal Year 2018 and ‘19 numbers have slowly been ratcheting up and now, in the first month of FY ‘20, we’re finally getting back to the baseline that would’ve been FY ‘15, before the gridlock,” Jackson said. “Obviously this report does not support the narrative of those who insist that the sky is falling, in Southern Illinois or in the state as a whole.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first budget, which took effect July 1, is likely a factor in the new hiring, Jackson added, as new infrastructure projects are planned and schools and social service agencies see funding bumps.

“This administration will continue to build on our momentum with policies that invest in our future,” Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes said in an IDES news release accompanying the data. “That’s why Governor Pritzker worked hard to pass a balanced budget that makes historic investments in education and a bipartisan capital bill that will help grow our economy for years to come.”

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Unemployment rates saw corresponding declines statewide in the IDES data, including in every deep Southern Illinois county, with Williamson County unemployment down 1%, Jackson down .9%, Franklin down 1.4% and Union down .9%.

Unemployment saw the biggest decreases in some of Southern Illinois’ most impoverished counties, including Alexander (-2.6%), Pulaski (-2.9%) and Saline (-1.7%).

However, the data shouldn’t be interpreted to indicate economic growth, said Alexander County Board Chairman Joe Griggs.

“As far as employment, no new jobs have come here in the last year,” Griggs said.

Instead, Griggs believes the unemployment rate has fallen because of recent population decline, which includes about 280 families who were forced to leave Cairo with the demolition of the Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes.

As crews raze public housing complexes in Cairo, residents wonder if there will ever be justice

“Out of them maybe 10% found housing in the Cairo area or the county,” Griggs said. “We’ve still got people leaving the county because of the flooding, so I can’t see those numbers coming from job creation.”

Griggs cautioned lawmakers against taking the data to mean joblessness has been addressed in his county, where 7.1% of workers are still unemployed.

“It sounds like someone’s trying to make it look like, ‘we’re doing so good,’” Griggs said, “but I can’t see anything like that from where I’m sitting.”

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