CHAMPAIGN – Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican rival Bruce Rauner have both sought to use the state's jobs situation as a political weapon.
But their claims and the numbers behind them demonstrate that the picture isn't nearly as clear as either Quinn or Rauner suggests.
Many of those claims center on one set of numbers in particular: How many people are employed in Illinois and what that says about the state's economy.
Rauner's campaign has repeatedly said that, under Quinn, Illinois has and is losing jobs.
"Illinoisans are still suffering after years of Pat Quinn's high tax policies, and the state has lost thousands of jobs this year alone," spokesman Mike Schrimpf said Thursday.
But Quinn's camp maintains the state has added jobs since Quinn took office in January 2009.
"The bottom line, just as a matter of fact, is that there are more people working in Illinois today than there were when the governor took office," Quinn campaign spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.
The numbers say both claims are accurate. But that doesn't tell the whole story.
Here's a closer look at what has become a key election issue in one of the nation's most closely watched gubernatorial races:
JOBS LOST: While Rauner frequently says Illinois is losing jobs without delving into details, the claim by his spokesman that thousands of jobs have been lost "this year alone" is more specific and, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, accurate.
The campaign points to the difference between the 5,828,700 Illinois residents who were employed in December and the number of people employed in June. Using BLS figures, the state Department of Employment Security said Thursday that figure was 5,813,200 — leaving a net of about 15,000 jobs lost so far this year. Some months have included gains, others losses.
But during Quinn's time in office, starting in January 2009, Illinois has actually added jobs, about 9,600, according to the BLS statistics.
And Quinn took office with the recession hitting hard. In the year before he took office, the number of people working in the state dropped by more than 190,000 people, about 3.2 percent. The number of people working continued to drop in the following months, bottoming out at 5,584,400 in January of 2010 before starting to climb back up.
Quinn, University of Illinois economist Fred Giertz said, can legitimately argue that he started playing with a bad hand when he took over for impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"The state was poorly managed by Blagojevich, we have this once-in-a-lifetime kind of recession," Giertz said. "The problem is that Illinois has been recovering much more slowly than the rest of the country. [There are] all kinds of issues that go beyond what a governor can control."
ON THE RISE: The governor and his campaign also regularly talk up the number of jobs created on his watch. They usually start counting from January of 2010 – a year after he took office – when the state Department of Employment Security says the recovery started in the state.
Since then, the state economy has added about 250,000 jobs, Quinn and his campaign say.
That figure, again using BLS data, is correct – a gain of just over 4 percent.
But Quinn includes only private-sector jobs in that count, leaving out government jobs which have actually declined over that period. If government jobs are included, the figure drops to about 228,000.
And either figure works out to no better than about 1 percent growth a year. That lags behind most Midwestern states.
"We know that we have to pick up the pace," said David Roeder, a spokesman for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. "We are seeing that."
By starting the clock a year after he took office, the governor also doesn't include the loss of 219,000 jobs as the growing recession beat up the state's economy.
While Rauner doesn't cut Quinn any slack for that year's performance – including them in the figures highlighted by his campaign – many experts like Giertz say Quinn can't entirely be blamed for what he walked into when he took office.
OUT OF WORK: Both camps use the state's unemployment rate to try to make points, too.
Rauner's campaign has noted, as it did Friday, that the state has one of the country's highest jobless rates. It did that on Friday even as the figure fell to 7.1 percent.
"We need to do better," Schrimpf, the Rauner spokesman, said.
But Illinois' jobless rate has been consistently dropping – from just above 10 percent in the summer of 2011 to 9 percent early last year to the current rate, which is as low as it has been since October 2008, according to the BLS.
"You can't say we're heading in the wrong direction when things are improving," Anderson said.
WHAT CAN A GOVEROR REALLY DO? Giertz notes that any politician is eager to take the credit for what goes right and his opponents more than happy to lay blame when things go wrong.
But in reality, the economist said, "It's very hard for the governor to create jobs."