A sign advertising for jobs sits along the roadside outside a FedEx location in Zionsville, Ind., on April 2. More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits the week of March 23, far exceeding a record high set just last week, a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of COVID-19.
A sign advertising for jobs sits along the roadside outside a FedEx location in Zionsville, Ind., on April 2. More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits the week of March 23, far exceeding a record high set just last week, a sign that layoffs are accelerating in the midst of COVID-19.

The economic effects of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continue to be felt in Illinois as total unemployment numbers continue to rise in the state.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security said in a Thursday, April 16 news release the unemployment rate rose to 4.6% in March, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 292,300 civilians who were out of work in March and more than 6 million employed, according to state data.

IDES officials said in the Thursday release the number of unemployed workers in Illinois "increased sharply from the prior month." That amounted to a 33.6% increase of those workers from February to March.

The unemployment rate in Illinois was 3.4%, with more than 218,800 unemployed civilians and 6,180,025 employed, in February. Illinois employment security officials said in a March 26 news release that was a new record low for the state.

Rebecca Cisco, spokeswoman for IDES, did not immediately return additional requests for comment from Shaw Media Illinois on Thursday.

The update comes after IDES announced that Illinois residents filed 141,160 claims for unemployment benefits last week, according to IDES numbers on Thursday, April 16. That’s a 30% decrease from the revised total of 201,041 for the week ending April 4, according to state data.

Illinois received 513,173 initial unemployment claims from March 1 to April 4, according to state data and a Monday news release from Gov. JB Pritzker's office.

"That is greater than the total number of initial claims for the entirety of 2019 [which was 489,831] and five times greater than the claims filed in the first five weeks of the 2008 Great Recession," the news release read.

The uptick in claims caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and businesses being affected by the state's stay-at-home order overloaded the IDES online filing system.

“Our state unemployment filing systems, which were built a decade ago for a much lower number of claims, simply haven’t kept pace,” Pritzker had said. “This was the painful truth that we discovered when unemployment began to spike.”

The Monday news release said the governor's administration and IDES overhauled the IDES website infrastructure, expanded the call center capacity and secured private partnerships to expand the capacity in its existing systems and to implement new programs.

Those new programs include the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, program, the Monday news release said. The program provides 100% federally funded unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed for specified COVID-19-related reasons and not covered through other avenues in the state's unemployment insurance program. Those individuals include self-employed sole proprietors and independent contractors.

State officials said in the Monday news release IDES is contracting with Deloitte to create and maintain a web-based solution for PUA. The agency will have the program fully implemented by the week of May 11, the release said.

Other programs include the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, or FPUC, program, which provides an additional $600 each week in 100% federally funded benefits to anyone entitled to regular state unemployment benefits through the week ending July 25, according to the Monday news release.

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, program – which provides up to 13 weeks’ worth of 100 % federally funded benefits to individuals who have exhausted their rights to regular state unemployment benefits of up to 26 weeks in Illinois – is expected to be fully implemented next week, the release said.

According to state data released earlier this month, there were 293,948 unemployment claims filed last month – amounting to a more than 1,150% increase in total filed unemployment claims in March 2020 from February 2020 – within the Shaw Media Illinois coverage area. There were at least three-digit percentage increases in each of the 16 counties within the Shaw Media Illinois coverage area, including Bureau, Carroll, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, La Salle, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Putnam, Whiteside and Will counties.

DuPage County saw the largest percentage increase – 1,460% – in filed unemployment claims in March from February out of the 16 counties, according to state unemployment data. There were 28,447 filed claims in March 2020 and 1,823 filed claims in February 2020.

Ogle County saw the smallest percentage increase – 297% – in filed unemployment claims in March from February. There were 1,393 filed claims last month and 351 filed claims in February 2020.

• Shaw Media Illinois news reporter Sean Hammond contributed to this report.

Kendall County