Illinois Unemployment Claims Surge, Mirror National Spike Due to Coronavirus

New numbers show Illinois claims up almost 500% from March 2019

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In one of the clearest signs of economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic, data released Thursday by the Illinois Department of Employment Security shows a massive increase in the number of people who filed for unemployment insurance in March.

The agency reported 133,763 people in the state have filed for benefits so far this month. 

The number is a nearly five-fold increase in claims compared to last year when 27,493 people in Illinois filed claims with the IDES in March 2019. It also shattered the record for a week-to-week jump in claims, which was set back in 1982. 

Illinois' unemployment numbers would likely have been higher, as applicants have experienced crashes on IDES' website and long waits over the phone. Those applicants could be reflected in high claims numbers next week.

Illinois' surge is being mirrored across the country. Data also released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department shows every state and territory showed a week-to-week increase in benefit filings, to a record 3.28 million.

Cheers, bells and clapping were heard from South Loop homes and apartments as a way to collectively cope with social distancing and the stay-at-home order.

Unemployment websites have also recently crashed in Michigan, Arizona, Ohio and Louisiana.

“This large increase in unemployment claims was not unexpected, and results from the recognition by Americans across the country that we have had to temporarily halt certain activities in order to defeat the coronavirus," said Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia in a statement. "The hard impact of this on American workers was anticipated in the bill passed by the Senate last night, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars in unprecedented funding for traditional unemployment insurance..."

That bill, which still needs to be passed by the House of Representatives, assembles $2 trillion in relief for the economy within its 880 pages. It is larger than the 2008 bank bailout and the stimulus bill that followed in 2009 combined.

Millions of people have been furloughed, laid-off or had their work reduced as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Normal life has nearly come to a standstill, particularly for workers in hospitality, tourism and transportation.

The relief bill promises a boost for states administering unemployment insurance and who can collect it. For the first time, gig workers, independent contractors, the self-employed, people with limited work history will be eligible.

The bill adds $600 a week, for a duration of four months, to standard unemployment benefits, which vary by state. It also provides funding for states to let people collect their payments immediately. Previously, they had to wait one week to receive them.

IDES recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system more responsive to demand, including a two-hour moratorium each night on applications so personnel can process daily claims.

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