More than 1 million Illinoisans out of work since COVID-19

More than 1 million Illinoisans out of work since COVID-19

The state’s unemployment rate continues to soar as joblessness hits more than 1 in 5 workers.

New U.S. Department of Labor data shows an additional 72,993 Illinoisans filed for unemployment the week ending May 9, bringing total new jobless claims to 1,023,022 since COVID-19 began shutting down the economy.

The sudden halt in economic activity following Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s order to close “non-essential” businesses has caused the state’s unemployment rate to surge to an estimated 20.7%, or a total of 1.3 million workers when those idled since COVID-19 are added to those out of work before the pandemic. For context, the state’s unemployment rate – not seasonally adjusted – peaked at 12.2% during the Great Recession.

However, the state’s unemployment rate likely does not capture the full picture of joblessness in the state, as many Illinoisans may give up searching for work, or remain unaccounted for. Gig economy workers, independent contractors and freelancers were just allowed to file for unemployment in Illinois starting May 11, seven weeks after Pritzker first issued a stay-at-home order.

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 19% to below 50% from February to May 9. 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. 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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