State unemployment highest in more than 10 years

By Gus Bode

Chris Foreman worked three jobs over the summer but still finds himself a frequent visitor to the unemployment office.

Foreman, a 27-year-old from DeSoto, has worked as a carpenter, truck driver and in various minimum-wage positions to make ends meet. He said the region’s job market continues to worsen, especially in the construction field as evidenced by the 7,900 construction jobs lost in Illinois since August 2007.

“The job market in southern Illinois is terrible. I mean, there are construction companies starting people at $8 an hour,” Foreman said. “I can go to Iowa and get a job making between $10 to $15 an hour, so that might be the easiest solution.”


Foreman is not the only one struggling to find a job in Illinois.

The state’s unemployment rate rose to 7.3 percent in August – the highest level since September 1993, when it was at 7.5 percent. The rate is 1.2 percent higher than the national average, which is at 6.1 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Nine of the 12 industries recognized by the state of Illinois recorded job losses from August 2007 to August 2008. The construction industry lost the most during that span with a decrease of 7,900 jobs. Manufacturing followed with 5,000 fewer jobs than the previous year.

The three industries that recorded increases are professional and business services, educational and health services, and trade, transportation and utilities.

While the economy has suffered lately, Dennis Hoffman said there is no definitive connection between the crisis and the job market.

Hoffman, Jackson County’s labor market economist for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said unemployment has gradually risen the past year, so the effects of the stock market, if any, plunge are unknown.

“The unemployment rate is sometimes a lagging indicator of labor market conditions in our area,” Hoffman said. “We’re right in the middle of the national crisis right now, so it remains to be seen how it will affect the local area.”


James Scales, director of SIUC career services, said the tumultuous job market has led more students to his office. He said between 30 percent and 40 percent more students use the services compared to last year.

He said while the job market is tight, he thinks students are being misinformed about the reality of the situation.

“Students ask me, ‘Is there a job for me?’ and the answer is yes,” Scales said. “But you have to be willing and able to compete because if you say, ‘Woe is me,’ you will end up sitting at home.”

While Scales said the struggles in the job market are amplified in public perception, he does acknowledge there could be problems the country has not seen before in the future.

“We’ve seen this in the job market about 10 or 15 years ago, but the difference is we don’t know what is next,” Scales said. “Never have we been on the verge of a crisis like the one that faces us now.”

The potential crisis has already affected people in the job market.

Brandon Henderson spent his Tuesday packing his belongings to get ready to move out of his Murphysboro trailer because he has no income. Henderson, 32, said he has applied everywhere he could work but was unable to land a job.

He said he hoped to find work as a truck driver, but his license was suspended after the company that certified him was found to have accepted bribes, making the certifications void.

“The only thing I can do now is find a temp agency, and that will give me a job for three months,” Henderson said. “It’s impossible to find a job now – even minimum wage fast-food jobs.”

Those who lose their jobs are staying out of the work force longer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The department’s report shows the amount of people jobless for 27 weeks or more reached 1.8 million in August – an increase of 589,000 during the past 12 months.

From his vantage point in DeSoto, Foreman said the cause of the crisis was clear.

Foreman said he blames President Bush’s handling of the economy. Turmoil in the stock market is a perfect example of Bush’s incompetence, Foreman said, adding he was glad to see the $700 billion bailout was not passed Monday.

“Bush has screwed up our country beyond belief,” Foreman said. “Now these big companies need to face the facts of going along with him, and I say let them go under.”

But for all the talk of fewer jobs and higher prices, some people, such as Bert Vangilder, remain positive.

Vangilder, a 59-year-old resident of Murphysboro, spends his days pushing his wheel cart around town sifting through people’s trash to find useful items. Vangilder said he enjoys every day.

He said he often gives the items he collects to people he sees who need it more than he does and believes everyone should keep that mindset.

“Things are going to get worse before they get better, but I don’t mind,” Vangilder said. “People have more money than they have sense anyways. They throw away things they can give to people, so they must have some money.”

Jeff Engelhardt can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 268 or [email protected]