John Rupp spent most of 2013 with a backpack full of bricks.
The McHenry man lost his job in December 2012, launching him into a job search world that felt foreign – gone was the importance of face-to-face interactions in favor of the all-important resume. It took nine months, but Rupp heard the sweet harmony of a job offer in September, alleviating the weight he had strapped to his shoulders all year.
“Once we get the call to say, ‘We want you,’ that burden is released,” Rupp said.
It’s an end result many would be pleased to duplicate in 2014, as Illinois looks to continue adding jobs and economists forecast a continued slow decrease in unemployment.
As of November, Illinois unemployment sits at 8.7 percent, fourth-highest in the country, while the national rate is 7 percent.
The state economy is gaining about 6,000 jobs a month, compared to the 18,000 jobs Illinois was losing a month during the height of the recession, said Greg Rivara, Illinois Department of Employment Security spokesman.
“That’s a big swing,” Rivara said.
Rivara attributes falling unemployment to an improved housing market, better debt ratios and increased consumer confidence – a factor helped by Congress’ recent budget deal.
He said he sees no reason those trends won’t continue in 2014, continuing to drive down unemployment, albeit gradually, while growing the economy.
“You’d anticipate that growth is going to continue,” Rivara said.
Economist Fred Giertz, of the University of Illinois, agrees with the assessment that unemployment should continue to drop in the coming year. But he tempered his enthusiasm.
“In essence, it’s good news with where we are now but it’s not particularly good news with where we should be at this stage in an economic recovery,” Giertz said.
He anticipated the national unemployment rate will drop below 7 percent, and that Illinois could dip below 8 percent, “if things go well.”
Some think the figure could be affected by Congress failing to pass an extension to its long-term unemployment benefits program, which expired Saturday. Put into place in 2008, the benefits were providing federal help to those unemployed for between 27 and 73 weeks.
If an extension had passed, the final tier of benefits would have been cut out in Illinois, eliminating those unemployed for more than 63 weeks from the program, Rivara said.
Some national economists have projected that unemployment rates will quickly drop without the long-term benefits, as more people exit the labor force by simply giving up on finding work.
Rivara said his department hasn’t done projections to that end in Illinois, where about 80,000 residents were receiving the benefits.
But Giertz said the drop in benefits could potentially force the unemployed to find jobs quicker.
“It’s kind of like a tough-love situation,” he said.
For Rupp, the unemployment benefits helped him continue to focus his efforts on getting back into the workforce permanently. It took him time to get a feel for how companies evaluated employees in the technology age. He eventually met with an HR company to spruce his resume, then got additional training paid for though his local Workforce Network Board.
Two weeks after the training, he accepted a job to be quality systems manager for West Chicago-based American Standard Circuits.
All the damage to Rupp’s self worth that a prolonged search had done was lifted when he received his offer.
“You say, ‘I do have something to give,’ “ Rupp said.