552K Illinoisans getting or seeking unemployment benefits a year into COVID-19

552K Illinoisans getting or seeking unemployment benefits a year into COVID-19

A year into COVID-19 and 552,000 Illinois workers are still in need of jobs. Despite that, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is asking for as much as $2 billion in new taxes on the small businesses that create most Illinois jobs.

It has been a year since COVID-19 started sending Illinois unemployment skyrocketing, and 551,997 workers are still looking for or receiving benefits.

A year ago Illinois started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and saw its first spike in requests for unemployment benefits: 126,716, which was more than 10 times the number of claims a week earlier. A year has passed but Illinois still saw 74,630 new unemployment claims last week.

Add those new claims to the traditional workers receiving ongoing benefits, plus the self-employed workers seeking or receiving ongoing benefits under the program created for them as a result of the pandemic, and Illinois has 551,997 people out of a job.

Here’s a closer look at that number and how Illinois workers are still trying to shake off COVID-19.

The 74,630 new claims by those in traditional employer-employee jobs for the week ended March 13 was up from 57,483 new claims the week before. The continued rise came as new claims across the U.S. rose by 45,000 last week to 770,000.

Those already receiving unemployment benefits dropped both in Illinois and in the U.S. for the week ending March 6. Illinois saw 3,609 fewer workers receiving ongoing unemployment benefits than a week earlier, for a total of 245,647. That number across the nation was also down by 18,000 to 4.12 million for the week ended March 6 from 4.14 million a week earlier. Benefits data lags new claims data by a week.

The pandemic created the need for a safety net for those who were self-employed, gig workers and independent contractors. The federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was created for those who were not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits before the pandemic.

New PUA claims by those self-employed workers was also up to 21,163 last week from 15,561 in Illinois. Their continuing claims were up by 5,238 to 210,557 through March 6.

All told, 95,793 new Illinoisans were out of work and seeking help last week. A total of 456,204 were receiving  ongoing benefits. Grand total: 551,997 Illinoisans not working a year into the pandemic.

The initial spike in unemployment hit a year ago, and then peaked at 202,157 new claims on April 4, 2020, when most of Illinois was shut down and ordered to stay home by Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders. Illinois saw new claims peak again when Tier 3 mitigation mandates were imposed by Pritzker on Nov. 20 in response to rising infections. All indoor service at bars and restaurants was banned as cold weather set in and made outdoor service difficult, resulting in new unemployment claims hitting 145,054 on Dec. 19. Those restrictions were eased for most of the state Jan. 23, and have eased more since then.

But Illinois has still seen unemployment rise since the start of February despite easing restrictions, creating concern that the state faces deeper faults in its economy.

The state’s COVID-19 7-day positivity rate has fallen to 2.3%. The state recorded nearly 4.2 million vaccine doses administered as of March 17.

As businesses struggle to recover from COVID-19 and put people back to work, Pritzker proposed nine new taxes worth nearly $1 billion, mostly targeting employers and efforts intended to create jobs, as part of his fiscal year 2022 proposed budget. He also is pushing to deny 440,000 small businesses a tax credit that could cost them between $500,000 and $1 billion.

Those moves comes after data reveals the COVID-19 crisis and Pritzker’s mandated closures hurt low-income households four times more than their better-off counterparts. Those families and women were more often employed in the leisure and hospitality sector, which suffered 40% more during 2020 in Illinois than across the U.S. Across all job sectors, 2020 was the worst year for jobs in Illinois history.

Raising taxes by as much as $2 billion during an economic crisis defies the advice of most economists as well as common sense.

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