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Illinois Unemployment Claims Remain At A High, Phone Numbers Waiting For Callbacks Still Rising

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With unemployment claims still at a high and calls for help still on the rise, we are not out of the woods in Illinois.

CBS 2's Tara Molina has been tracking these issues – and the state's failure to keep up – from the very beginning. On Thursday, she brought the questions straight to the top.

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported 18,859 new unemployment claims were filed during the week of July 19 in Illinois, an 27% decrease from the previous week when 25,919 people filed. The latest claims are among 400,000 total claims filed across the country last week – a decrease of 24,000.

Meanwhile, it turns out people still are not getting calls from the state. After waiting months, we are still hearing from people waiting and waiting on help from the state, with nowhere else to turn.

One of those people is Myra Miller, who worked at a construction company for more than a decade before the pandemic.

"It's just like a big black hole. You have no response," Miller said. "It's been going on for so long, you would have thought by now they would've figured out how to handle it better."

Miller had to clear a claim a fraudster filed in her name before she could make her own. But still, months later, there was no money, no help, and no call.

"I was promised call after call after call," Miller said. "I never got a call back."

We know she's not alone.

We took the most recent number of phone numbers in the state's system waiting for calls from the state for help, and plotted them out. The graph shows a steady spike. Numbers are at their lowest in mid-June, then on the up-and-up through the end of July, when more than 32,000 phone numbers were tied up in the system waiting.

IDES Call Center Queue Graph
(Credit: CBS 2)

"There's no recourse," Miller said. "There's no supervisor you can talk to. No one you can email."

Jeremy Rosen is Director of Economic Justice Shriver Center on Poverty Law…

"It doesn't surprise me at all that there's a real crunch going on right now as far as increased demand for services from IDES," he said.

With unemployment claims still at a high, Rosen said this shows people need help and they're not getting it.

"Unemployment is that rock; that thing that needs to be there for people when they lose their jobs," he said.

We looked to the historical data to see how claims stack up now, plugging the numbers into a graph for some perspective.

Unemployment Claims Graph
(Credit: CBS 2)

Let's start with 2019. Pre-pandemic, in one week in July, just over 10,300 people filed for unemployment. That figure is pretty standard for that year.

Last year, in the heart of the pandemic, that figure soared to over 33,000 people filing for unemployment that same week.

And while the most recent numbers just released by the state are much lower than that – those nearly 19,000 last week – they're still up significantly from pre-pandemic times.

"I think they're failing people," Miller said. "I think there are a lot of people who haven't gotten any resolution at all or they don't know who to turn to."

The Illinois Department of Employment Security released the following statement in response to this story:

"As expected, individuals are contacting IDES for a variety of reasons, including the impending expiration of federal unemployment programs, questions surrounding overpayment waivers, non-instructional education workers eligibility for backdated benefits, and questions surrounding fraud related to ongoing phishing schemes, amongst other typical claims maintenance issues claimants may experience (password resets, certification questions, etc.).

"IDES call center staff are returning phone calls 7 days per week; Deloitte staff are still returning calls on Saturdays (6 days per week). As has been the Department's standard business practice, data related to call center numbers continues to be monitored and changes in staffing queues will be made as needed. IDES will also continue to evaluate data around the days and times callers are most likely to answer the phone, and focus on staffing in those hours where the effort would be most productive.

"These numbers represent the amount of phone numbers in the queue(s) and are not indicative of the number of claimants."

On the continued high number of unemployment claims, the IDES said: "The increase in unemployment claims is due, in part, to the anticipated temporary supply chain disruptions in manufacturing that have been reported in the media. This is also an indication of continued volatility as the labor market heals from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As to the drop this week compared with last in unemployment claims, the department said, "Last week's decline reflects typical seasonal changes and a decrease in layoff activity."

Meanwhile, there is still, no update on when IDES offices will open again.

"We need to get those offices reopened and it needs to happen as quickly as possible," Rosen said.

Previously, IDES said they are working on a "phased" reopening of offices by this summer. But Gov. JB Pritzker has weighed in, saying they're not open because of safety concerns.

CBS 2 is committing to Working For Chicago, connecting you every day with the information you or a loved one might need about the jobs market, and helping you remove roadblocks to getting back to work.

We'll keep uncovering information every day to help this community get back to work, until the job crisis passes. CBS 2 has several helpful items right here on our website, including a look at specific companies that are hiring, and information from the state about the best way to get through to file for unemployment benefits in the meantime.

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