By MICHAEL TARM - The Associated Press

Illinois unemployment unchanged at 8.8 percent

CHICAGO – The latest news on Illinois' jobless rate is neither really bad nor really good: The October rate was unchanged from September's 8.8 percent, the Illinois Department of Employment Security reported on Friday.

Seasonally adjusted data showed a modest 4,800 jobs were created in October, driven by the leisure and hospitality industry as well as education and health.

In a favorable comparison, IDES Director Jay Rowell drew attention to the 10 percent unemployment rate in October last year. The lower rate this October, he argued, "shows steady economic progress."

The state's rate, though, looks less flattering compared to the country as a whole. The national unemployment rate for October stood at 7.9 percent.

Some economic observers in Illinois said they saw little reason to cheer.

"What's important to me is how Illinois is doing versus its neighbors," said Ted Dabrowski, a vice president at Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. "Our neighbors are doing much better."

The average monthly unemployment rate for states around Illinois is under 7.5 percent, according to Dabrowski. Multiple factors, including a state debt crisis, have undermined job creation in Illinois, he said.

There's one issue that both Rowell and Dabrowski agree could make matters worse: Looming national tax increases and spending that will kick in if Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on how to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff."

"Our eyes now turn toward Congress," Rowell said. "Decisions must be made regarding the fiscal cliff so that Illinois' economy can continue to recover."

Dabrowski agreed in part, saying going over the "fiscal cliff" would hurt all states' economies.

"But there's little we in Illinois can do about the national cliff," he said. "We can do something about Illinois policies. ... We have our own fiscal cliff to worry about."

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