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Unemployment continues to soar amid COVID-19 outbreak

Nearly 300,000 Illinoisans

filed first-time claims in past two weeks

By Peter Hancock

SPRINGFIELD – First-time unemployment claims skyrocketed again in Illinois

and throughout the nation in the last week of March as businesses closed their

doors or scaled back operations in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that 6.6 million Americans

filed first-time unemployment claims during the week that ended March 28,

including 178,133 workers in Illinois, a 1,539 percent increase over the number

of new claims filed the week ending March 14, when the coronavirus-related

spike in unemployment first started to appear.

That brings the total for the past two weeks to just fewer than 10 million

nationally, and 292,247 for the state of Illinois – numbers that are

unprecedented in the history of the unemployment insurance program.

According to the Labor Department, nearly every state that provided

comments on their numbers cited the COVID-19 outbreak for the increase.

Industries hardest hit included the service sector, most notably accommodation

and food services, as well as health care, social services, manufacturing, retail

and wholesale trade and construction. The Washington-based Economic Policy

Institute reported Thursday that every state in the nation saw huge increases

in first-time jobless claims during the week. Michigan saw the largest increase

with 311,000 new initial claims, a 5,728 percent increase over the number of

initial claims filed in the week ending March 14. Neighboring Indiana saw a

5,533 percent increase over that period, with 146,243 new claims last week.

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Under new federal law, most unemployed workers are now eligible for

enhanced federal benefits, above and beyond what state unemployment insurance

programs provide. In addition, employers with fewer than 500 employees are now

required to provide their workers with paid sick leave and paid family and medical

leave if the employee is out due to certain reasons related to COVID-19.

Gov. JB Pritzker said during his daily briefing last Wednesday that the

nationwide surge in jobless claims indicates the federal government will need

to enact another emergency recovery package, in addition to the $2.2 trillion

package Congress passed last week.

“We’re going to have to see another relief package because not only is

there an unemployment problem, which hopefully it will only be four months or

so long, but there’s also a challenge to all of our city budgets and state

budgets, and it goes beyond what was provided in the federal stimulus that was

passed just recently,” Pritzker said. The Pew Charitable Trust released a

report Thursday that said all state governments are likely to struggle

financially during the crisis because the rising unemployment rate and the

precipitous decline in commercial activity will cut deeply into their personal

income and sales tax revenues.

“These declines are likely to play out over the course of months because

there’s always a lag between changes in a state economy and changes in

revenue,” the report stated.

The surge in jobless claims recently prompted the Pritzker administration

to impose a moratorium on all residential evictions and utility shutoffs during

the current state of disaster. But the deluge of new applications also has

strained the capacity of the Illinois Department of Employment Security to

handle the volume.

“This administration is fully committed to the health and safety of our

workforce and ensuring our workers can provide for their families in this

challenging time,” Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes said in a statement. “As we navigate

this period of economic uncertainty, we will continue to champion policies that

will lift up every Illinoisan while making investments that will help to

strengthen our economy.”

Pritzker responded last Thursday to reports that people have had

difficulty logging in to the website where people file unemployment claims and

that people trying to reach the call center experience long wait times.

“This is the biggest onslaught of unemployment claims I think ever, at

least in my lifetime, and even more so than the Great Recession of 2008-2009,”

the governor said during his daily media briefing in Chicago.

“But believe me, we’re trying very hard both to answer every call, which

is hard to do because we have a system where there just aren’t enough people,”

he added. “We’ve asked many of our staff to go stay home, as many businesses

are, but we also have nonessential staff there to help augment whoever is

there.”

IDES recently implemented an alphabet-based schedule for people to file

online claims and for contacting the call center.

People whose last names begin with A through M are asked to file online

claims on Sundays, Tuesdays or Thursdays. They can contact the call center on

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

People with last names starting with A through Z are asked to file claims

online claims on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. They can contact the call

center on Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 a.m. through 6 p.m.

The call center is reserving Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for people

who are unable to file claims during their allotted time.

Capitol News Illinois

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