Illinois’ new jobless claims remain high, push total since COVID-19 to nearly 1.1M

Illinois’ new jobless claims remain high, push total since COVID-19 to nearly 1.1M

Self-employed and gig workers were finally allowed to file for benefits last week, driving the total to nearly 1.1 million Illinoisans seeking help since COVID-19 hit the state’s economy.

New U.S. Department of Labor data shows an additional 72,816 Illinoisans filed for unemployment the week ending May 16, bringing total new jobless claims to 1,095,516 since COVID-19 began shutting down the economy.

Gig economy workers, independent contractors and freelancers were just allowed to file for unemployment in Illinois starting May 11, seven weeks after Gov. J.B. Pritzker first issued a stay-at-home order. The governor also said 44,000 of these workers filed for unemployment benefits on May 11, meaning the bulk of new claims came from workers who have likely been idled for nearly two months.

Perhaps a more telling picture of how bleak the state’s labor market has become is to look at the employed share of the civilian non-institutionalized population (the number of working-age, non-military and non-inmate citizens). The state’s employed share of the population suddenly dropped 20% to 49% from February to May 16. Illinois’ employment rate’s previous low was 58% during the worst period of the Great Recession, declining 11% relative to pre-recession peaks.

Illinois families cannot afford to be out of work for an extended period of time. Many are still waiting to have their unemployment claims processed and have little to no savings to feed themselves or cover other expenses. Other countries and other U.S. states are beginning to phase in the re-opening of their economies.

Business and consumer confidence are a cheap form of stimulus. Pritzker now has an outline of a plan, but Illinoisans need it to be more detailed for it to provide the certainty needed to make economic decisions.

State lawmakers need to do their part to minimize uncertainty by voting to remove the progressive income tax from the Nov. 3 ballot, which they can do by supporting House Joint Resolution 123. If passed, that tax hike will hit more than 100,000 small businesses, the state’s most prolific job creators, just as they are trying to recover from the COVID-19 recession.

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