We watch jobs data like some monitor their high blood pressure. Is it (unemployment) going up? (Bad news.) Is it stable? (Better.) Is it going down? (Good!).

Today’s report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security indicates the state’s unemployment rate dipped slightly to 10.9 percent, down from a high of 11.0 percent in October. The national data released earlier this month also saw slight improvement in the data, but as economist Geoff Hewings, director of the University of Illinois Regional Economics Applications Laboratory (REAL), points out—Illinois tends to enter and recover from recessions more slowly than the rest of the nation.

Employment is the number one wildcard factor for housing in 2010, says Hewings in this video podcast on the Illinois housing market outlook (also available at www.illinoisrealtor.org, click on Market Stats).

According to REAL, since 1945 Illinois has never taken longer than 8 years to recover a prior peak employment level; in 2010 we enter the 10th year. You can find more stats like these in a previous jobs post.

“The most critical factor for housing is jobs,” says Hewings. “A lot of job improvements revolve around confidence. Investors must have confidence that the economy is on the upturn then they will be encouraged to invest. But the most important group that we need to have confidence is the consumer; 70 percent of our gross product on the expenditure side comes from consumption.”

If consumers start spending that will be good news. For the economy and the housing market.