Illinois unemployment fell in July to 6.8 percent, the fifth straight monthly decrease in the state's jobless rate and a six-year low, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Employment Security.
The July figure represents a drop from 9.2 percent one year ago and marks the largest year-over-year decline since 1984. The last time the rate was lower than 6.8 was in August 2008 when it was 6.7. There are 35,600 more jobs than one year ago.
The monthly employment report the department released Thursday showed employers creating 11,200 private-sector jobs in the past month.
Illinois state officials celebrated the news on Thursday, which Gov. Pat Quinn called a "momentous" day.
He credited at least part of the drop to his policies over the years, particularly on investments in manufacturing and overhauls to workers' compensation and unemployment insurance. Talk of job creation has factored heavily into the state's highly competitive governor's race. Quinn is facing a challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.
"We've had to make a lot of hard decisions over the last few years that I've been governor," Quinn told reporters at a Chicago pipe and conduit and manufacturer. "We made those decisions. We did it on purpose."
Rauner's campaign said the numbers were nothing to cheer about, noting Illinois still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.
"Celebrating today's job numbers is like cheering a touchdown when you're down 35 points with two minutes left," spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
Illinois' rate for July was still slightly higher than the national rate of 6.2 percent.
Department Director Jay Rowell said Illinois has traditionally been slightly higher because of the state's diversity of job sectors.
Areas in Illinois that saw the biggest drops in unemployment were business and professional services and manufacturing.