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Unemployment lowest since '70


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The lines were long as job seekers waited outside the Milan Community Center last spring to apply for jobs at Case Corp. After years of not hiring new workers, Case and Deere Co. were among local companies seeking new employees in 1997.

The unemployment rate in the Quad-Cities area fell to its lowest level in 23 years in 1997, according to Illinois Department of Employment Security data.

The 3.6 percent jobless rate also was lower than the rate in other Illinois communities of comparable makeup and size.

The Peoria metropolitan statistical area in central Illinois had a 4.5 percent jobless rate for January through November 1997, while the Rockford metropolitan area had a 4.8 percent rate for the same period.

Illinois last posted a 3.6 percent jobless rate in 1970 before climbing to a 11.4 percent peak in 1983, according to IDES data.

Illinois had an average 4.8 percent jobless rate for the first nine months of the year, while Iowa had a 3.0 percent rate. The average national jobless rate was 5.2 percent.

The December data has not been released.

The Quad-Cities led the state last February by adding 5,000 new non-agricultural jobs between February 1996 and February 1997, IDES said.

Every industry sector measured by the state agency contributed to the overall health of the local economy. However, most of the Quad-Cities' job growth came from the service sector, which added 2,100 professional and nonprofessional jobs.

Manufacturing continued to hit new highs throughout the Midwest. The Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index reached a record high of 125.5 in November, the most recent data available. The index increased seven-tenths of a point from October to November, following a strong 1.1 percent increase in October, the Chicago Fed said.

By comparison, the Federal Reserve Board's industrial production index for manufacturing also set a record high of 130.2 in November, a 1 percent increase in November following a 0.6 percent increase in October.

The regional manufacturing index of 5.6 percent recorded good growth compared with 1996. However, the nation experienced stronger growth of 6.3 percent over the same period. The faster growth by the national manufacturing index was evident for the past seven months of 1997 data.

``Even with the strong growth in the nation, Midwest manufacturers continued to do well, and the good output performance was fairly broad-based across the many different industries in the region,'' the Chicago Federal Reserve Board said.

The resource sector had the strongest growth of the four industrial subsectors, rising 1.3 percent in November and 1.1 percent in October.

The Midwest machinery sector increased 0.7 percent in November and 0.9 percent in October.

The Midwest steel sector increased 0.6 percent in November and 1.3 percent in October, while the Midwest regional auto sector grew 0.2 percent in November after a very strong 1.5 percent increase in October.

The strength in the manufacturing industry was felt at home, where Deere & Co. and its business partners increased production and posted strong earnings.

Moline-based Deere had record net income for the fiscal '97 fourth quarter of $211.3 million on $3.444 billion net sales and revenues.

For the second year in a row, Case Corp.'s combine and cotton-picker assembly plant in East Moline put out a broad-based call for new workers. Hundreds of skilled workers formed lines outside the Milan Community Center last spring to fill out employment applications and answer the Job Service questions.

Case created a pool of qualified workers to fill any expected positions associated with production increases and retirements.

Not all local industries fared so well hiring replacement workers. IBP Inc. tried recruiting workers from its other plant cities in Iowa and from Modesto, Calif., after the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service raided its meat-packing plants in Joslin and other sites in Iowa.

Turnover and new product lines also continued to stretch the existing workforce and create job openings, company officials said.

Last summer, Modesto had a jobless rate of nearly 12 percent and 15,000 people were on welfare. Federal immigration officials had arrested 142 Mexican workers June 18 from IBP's Joslin plant and deported 128 of them to their homeland.

-- By Rita Pearson (January 26, 1998)

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