The COVID-19 pandemic has affected cities, towns and villages throughout Illinois and our nation in a myriad of ways. There is, however, a constant and nationally shared effect of this pandemic— unemployment claims have spiked dramatically.

Over the past five years, unemployment numbers in Illinois had dropped steadily. In 2016, unemployment was at 5.8 percent compared to 4.9 percent nationally; in 2017, unemployment was at 4.9 percent compared to 4.4 percent nationally; in 2018, unemployment was at 4.3 percent compared to 3.9 percent nationally; and in 2019, unemployment was at 4 percent compared to 3.7 percent nationally, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Economic Information and Analysis.

The unemployment statistics this year to date demonstrate that unemployment numbers remained static in Edwards, Richland, Wabash, Wayne and White counties, whereas the recent historical statistics would suggest they would continue to fall. In January and February, the average unemployment rates in those counties were as follows: Edwards—4.3 percent; Richland—3.6 percent; Wabash—3 percent; Wayne—4.1 percent; and White—3.4 percent.

In the same time span, according to the IDES, the state of Illinois saw unemployment at its lowest in the past five years, coming in at an average of 3.5 percent. Then, the state temporarily shut down nonessential businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and unemployment claims have skyrocketed.

Due to the closures, layoffs and furloughs caused by the pandemic, the unemployment rate, which had been steadily dropping, spiked dramatically in March. The governor issued a press release on April 13 that spelled out the gravity of the situation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the United States economy, leading to an unprecedented number of unemployment claims. Through the five weeks from March 1 to April 4, Illinois received 513,173 initial unemployment claims. That is greater than the total number of initial claims for the entirety of 2019 (489,831) and five times greater than the claims filed in the first five weeks of the 2008 great recession.”

That number only continues to climb as people work their way through the unemployment system. However, as hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans file for unemployment, this is the message that greets them on the IDES’s website: “Unemployment benefits may be available to some individuals whose unemployment is attributable to COVID-19. IDES recently adopted emergency rules to try to make the unemployment insurance system as responsive to the current situation as possible.”

For the rest of the story, check out this week's Navigator.