Thousands of Illinoisans impacted after federal unemployment benefits end

Local businesses say they hope the end of unemployment triggers a flood of job seekers, to repair severe labor shortages left by the pandemic.
Published: Sep. 7, 2021 at 5:33 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Millions of Americans, including half a million Illinois residents find themselves without unemployment financial help Tuesday, after the federal government’s pandemic assistance programs come to an end. Experts talk about the end of this 17 month program and if it might be the push to get people back to work.

Unemployment is a major issue that got even worse as COVID-19 spread across the country. But many local businesses worry about another effect from the pandemic. One that’s left them desperate for employees.

“We didn’t have enough staff, so we made a difficult decision to close dinner service on a Tuesday,” said Woodfire Pizza Owner, Joe D’Astice.

Severe labor shortages make that an every-other-day occurrence for Joe D’Astice, who owns Woodfire Pizza in Rockford.

“It’s really hard right now, to come into work everyday knowing that if you take a day off, someone else is really going to be put in a bind because we’re so short-staffed,” said D’Astice.

D’Astice hopes to see worker shortages ease, since extended unemployment benefits ended over Labor Day weekend for nearly 350,000 Illinois residents, according to The Century Foundation. About 235,000 of them receive pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, and another 110,000 get pandemic unemployment assistance.

“It would be fantastic if everyone in all the businesses even a marginal increase,” D’Astice said. “It would make things a lot easier.”

The numbers show things might be working in D’Astice’s favor.

“We have started to see a slow trickle of people deciding to return to work, and coming into our offices to apply,” said The Workplace Chief Operating Officer, Lesly Couper.

Couper is the Chief Operating Officer at the Workplace, which is a Rockford employment agency. Couper said the end of pandemic-relief benefits could signal a flood of job seekers but will likely force many Illinois families into financial trouble.

“People have different reasons for not returning to work,” said Couper. “Some may be child care issues and there could be health issues.”

Couper hopes area leaders will take these difficulties into consideration when making choices for their communities.

“We need to think about how those benefits impact people in the community.”

Another reason Illinois sees workforce shortages is because of something called “The Great Resignation.” Many workers have either left their jobs or changed careers because they’ve re-evaluated their lives during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

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