Unemployment continued its slow drop across Illinois in May, though data released Thursday shows some job sectors hinting that the state could be following the country into a period of economic doldrums.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security reported unemployment fell last month to 8.6 percent, marking the ninth straight monthly decrease. The jobless rate in April was 8.7 percent.
But net employment fell in Illinois by 1,800 jobs in May, after just 100 jobs were added in April. An unexpectedly strong 9,100 jobs were added in March.
"Last year about this time, Illinois hit the soft patch after the nation did,'' department spokesman Greg Rivara said. "That same pattern existed in 2010, too. It would seem that trend is emerging again this year,'' though he added that it's too soon to know for sure.
The federal government reported earlier this month that the May national unemployment rate was 8.2 percent, up slightly from April's 8.1 percent.
Illinois' economy tends to lag the country as a whole, meaning national trends tend not to be delayed in the state for months.
State sectors that shed the largest numbers of jobs in May included construction, which lost 4,600 jobs during the month and has seen sharp drops for three straight months.
Another area with a big drop in May was the professional and business service sector, which lost a net 5,600 jobs in May. That sector had been a strong point in recent months with employers who were seeing their businesses improve and hiring temporary workers to meet demand.
The strength of the state's economy continued to be manufacturing, where a net 4,800 jobs were added.
Jim Nelson, who is a vice president with the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said the strongest piece of the state's manufacturing economy right now is its auto makers. Assembly plants owned by Chrysler Group LLC in Belvidere, Ford Motor Co. in Chicago and Mitsubishi Motors North America in Normal that have increased production and have added workers, as well as the parts makers that feed those plants and others.
"I'm hearing nothing but good news out of Ford, out of Chrysler,'' Nelson said. "Mitsubishi is going great guns.''
The trade, transportation and utilities sector also grew in May, adding 3,200 jobs.
"Certainly there's the motor vehicle and parts dealers,'' Rivara said, "which moves in concert with manufacturing being up.''
Both Nelson and Rivara said the state's business so far remain relatively untouched by economic problems in Europe.
"Manufacturers are going to keep a wary eye on that, but so far it's apparently not affecting orders for new products,'' Nelson said.