Crawford County unemployment figures increased slightly in December.
According to Illinois Department of Employment Security Job Market Analyst Dennis Hoffman, 9.2 percent of the county's workforce was collecting unemployment insurance while actively seeking jobs during the month. This was up from 8.8 percent in December 2011 and 8.5 percent in November.
Clark County, on the other hand, posted a drop in joblessness. The rate there, however, was still one of the highest in this part of the state. Clark's December rate was 10.5 percent, down from 11.4 percent a year earlier, but up from the November rate of 9.6 percent.
In Jasper County, the rate was 8.6 percent, changed only slightly from 8.7 percent in December 2011. It was up from 8.1 percent in November.
The Lawrence County rate, at 8 percent, was down from 8.7 percent a year earlier, but up from 7.4 percent the previous month.
Throughout 2012, labor market conditions moderately improved in south central lllinois, Hoffman said. December unemployment fell in 12 of the 18 counties compared to one year ago.
"Retailers and restaurants employed temporary and part-time workers for the holiday season," he explained. "Over-the-year employment gains were reported in transportation, wholesale trade and professional/business services. Medical facility expansions throughout the area continue to have a positive impact on the workforce. Seasonal layoffs began in construction in late fall.
"Health care and Sales related jobs had the largest number of job openings at the end of 2012," Hoffman added. "Employment opportunities also were available in transportation, food service, computer-related services, office and administrative support, industrial and mechanical engineers and installation, maintenance and repair."
Across the Wabash River in Indiana, Vigo County posted a 10-percent rate in December. This was unchanged from a year earlier, but up from 9.4 percent in November.
The Sullivan County rate was 11.8 percent. This was up from 10.1 percent in 2011 and 11.1 percent in November. In Knox County, the rate was 7.3 percent, up from 6.5 percent a year earlier and 6.7 percent in November.
Indiana's statewide average unemployment rate in December was 8.5 percent. This was down from 8.7 percent a year earlier, but up from 8 percent in November. The Illinois rate was 8.6 percent, down from 9.3 percent in 2011, but up from 8.3 percent a month before.
Nationally, the December jobless rate was 7.6 percent. This was down from 8.3 percent in 2011, but up slightly from 7.3 percent in November.
In a related matter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and IDES this week announced indictments of 14 Chicago area defendants, alleging they defrauded the state when they knowingly collected more than $400,000 in unemployment benefits even though they were employed.
The sweep was the result of investigations by IDES and Madigan's office that discovered the defendants were repeatedly certifying they were unemployed in order to collect weekly benefits in spite of already being employed.
"These defendants collected unemployment benefits while they were simultaneously collecting a paycheck," Madigan said.
"Prosecuting these cases deters fraud and ensures the integrity of the unemployment insurance program to help the unemployed who need the resources as they search for new employment," she added.
In April, IDES and the attorney general's office partnered to pursue criminal prosecution of unemployment fraud. These announced indictments are the first set of criminal charges resulting from that partnership.
"This joint effort is a direct result our emphasis to fight waste, fraud and abuse," IDES Director Jay Rowell said.
"Unemployment insurance benefits are designed to help hard-working individuals and the small businesses they patronize survive an economic crisis," Rowell explained. "Stealing money from those who play by the rules hurts our economy and cannot be tolerated."
Madigan filed charges of theft, a Class 1 felony punishable by four to 15 years in prison, and state benefits fraud and wire fraud, Class 3 felonies punishable by two to five years in prison, against 14 defendants.
In each case, the defendant falsely verified they were unemployed through the IDES telephone or on-line verification system to access taxpayer-funded assistance during their supposed unemployment.
Investigations by IDES and Madigan's office revealed the defendants were, in fact, employed and should not have received benefits or the level of benefits they claimed.
Fraudulent claims made by the defendants spanned from 2009 through 2011. In the most egregious cases, several defendants obtained more than $40,000 in fraudulent benefits.