Unemployment took a small bounce in Crawford and neighboring counties in February.
According to Illinois Department of Employment Security Job Market Analyst Dennis Hoffman, unemployment was down in the area during the month when compared to statistics from February 2013. Figures were slightly higher than in January, however.
In Crawford County, 10.6 percent of the workforce was unemployed and seeking new jobs in February. This was less than the 11.6 percent rate reported a year earlier, but slightly more than the 10.5 percent rate posted in January.
Clark County reported a jobless rate of 11.5 percent. This was down from 12.5 percent in 2013, but up slightly from 11.2 percent in January.
Jasper County's February unemployment rate was 9.8 percent. This was down from 10.9 percent last year, but up from 9.6 percent the previous month.
The Lawrence County rate was 9.6 percent, down from 10 percent last year, but up from 9.2 percent in February.
Unemployment fell in 14 of 18 counties in south-central Illinois when compared to one year ago, Hoffman said.
"Workforce conditions were stable during the winter in this region of Illinois," Hoffman explained.
"Over-the-year payroll advances occurred in wholesale trade, health care services and professional/business services," he said. "Severe weather conditions this winter caused a seasonal decrease in construction employment and also affected employment in other industries such as retail trade and leisure/hospitality. Government payrolls remained on a steady downward trend.
"Employment opportunities were available in early 2014 in sales, transportation and food services," he added. "Health care and medical support occupations continued to have job openings. Demands continued for workers in management, computer operations, engineering, production occupations, office support staff and installation, maintenance and repair occupations."
Statewide, unemployment dropped to 9.4 percent from 10.5 percent last year. It was up from 9.1 percent in January, though. Meanwhile, in Indiana, the rate was 6.9 percent, down from 9.3 percent a year earlier, but up from 6.4 percent in January.
The Vigo County rate, at 8.8 percent, was down from 11.4 percent in 2013, but up from 8.4 percent a month earlier. Sullivan County's rate of 8.6 percent was down from 12.5 percent in February 2013 and unchanged from January. Knox County posted a 5.5-percent rate, down from 7.6 percent last year, but up from 5.4 percent in January.
Nationally, the February jobless rate was 7 percent, down from 7.7 percent last year and unchanged from January.
Legislation to resurrect benefits for the long-term unemployed took an essential step Wednesday toward likely Senate approval, despite complaints from Republicans that Democrats refuse to allow changes designed to stimulate job creation.
The vote was 61-38, one more than the 60 needed for the bill to advance toward likely approval in the next several days.
The bill would renew benefits for the long-term unemployed, generally those who have been off the job for more than 26 weeks. An estimated 2.7 million workers have been affected since the program expired at the end of last year.
Democrats began a drive to renew the program in January.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that in addition to helping the long-term unemployed, the legislation would be a boon to the economy. The benefits go "right to the families...right to the local grocery store, right to the local gas station for repairs on the care, to pay for day care that might be necessary for children," he said.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., said Republicans had filed dozens of proposed changes that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to permit to come to a vote.
Among them are proposals to "repeal job-killing taxes (and) improve congressional safeguards against over-regulation," he said.
Despite the criticism, Democrats agreed earlier to enough changes to the measure to attract the support of five Republicans, enough to assure 60 votes.
Among them was an agreement to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to offset the bill's $9.7 billion cost over a decade, a change that will prevent the legislation from raising deficits.
Other changes would prevent millionaires from receiving jobless benefits and would improve programs that help the long-term unemployed find new jobs.
The legislation would re-instate the benefits for five months, retroactive to last Dec. 28.
Senate passage would clear the way for a tough battle in the House, where majority Republicans are generally opposed to renewing the program.
Voting to advance the bill were 53 Democrats, two independents and Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; Susan Collins of Maine; Dean Heller of Nevada; Mark Kirk of Illinois; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.
All votes to block the bill were cast by Republicans.