State Unemployment Rate of 16.4% a ‘Tragedy,’ Pritzker Says

New statewide COVID-19 totals: 102,686 cases, 4,607 deaths

An Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)An Illinois Department of Employment Security office on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago. (WTTW News)

Illinois’ unemployment rate is now 16.4%, officials announced Thursday, setting a modern-day record that spotlights the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker called number of Illinois residents out of work a “tragedy” and said his administration was focused on safely restarting the state’s economy without causing infections to soar while shoring up the state’s unemployment insurance system.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security said it processed more than 1.2 million claims for unemployment benefits since March 1, 12 times the load the agency handled during the same period in 2019.

That includes 74,515 unemployment claims for independent contractors, who were allowed to file for unemployment insurance for the first time last week under a change to federal law prompted by the pandemic. 

Pritzker said he was especially concerned that some small businesses would not be able to reopen.

“This is a tragedy that requires us to really put shoulder to the wheel to make sure that not only the federal dollars” but also state funds are used to help those out of work, Pritzker said.

Pritzker said his administration was working to correct problems with the phone and online unemployment insurance systems, and praised employees working to help those filing for benefits.

That has been more difficult since the state’s unemployment system was “woefully” hollowed out and underfunded for years under previous governors, Pritzker said.

“We have to take care of people in our state,” Pritzker said. “They need us in this exact moment; this is what government is for.”

Public health officials announced 2,268 new cases of the coronavirus and 87 deaths in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday. In all, 102,686 cases of the coronavirus have been diagnosed in Illinois, and 4,607 Illinois residents have died.

The state recorded 29,307 test results during the same 24 hour period, marking a record high. Pritzker has said the state needs to test as many residents as possible to stop the spread of the virus.

State data shows that 3,914 people are hospitalized with the virus, including 1,005 patients in intensive care units. Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that is “the lowest number since we were capturing these numbers,” additional evidence that Illinois may have passed the peak of the pandemic.

All four regions of Illinois are set to advance to the third phase of Pritzker’s plan when his stay-at-home order expires May 29, according to state data.

That will allow “nonessential” retail businesses to reopen with health precautions in place and allow restaurants to serve diners at outside tables. However, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Thursday restaurants in the city would not reopen to diners on May 29.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources

Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including: 

—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick

Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue

If you think you have COVID-19:

Call your doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.

Additional resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois’ COVID-19 website
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IDPH COVID-19 email link
City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link

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