As federal unemployment benefits end, Chicago businesses hope employees will return

Michelle Gallardo Image
Monday, September 6, 2021
Chicago businesses hope employees return after unemployment ends
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With federal unemployment benefits expiring, many businesses in Chicago and Illinois that are too understaffed to operate full time are hoping they may finally get the employees th

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It's game day in Wrigelyville. A server at Old Crow rushes from table to table trying to keep customers happy, but it's a struggle. If it weren't for the Cubs game, the restaurant wouldn't be open at all on a Monday. Or a Tuesday. Or a Wednesday.

"We just don't have the employees, especially in the kitchen to fill those hours," said co-owner Korina Sanchez. "We're already paying the employees way above minimum wage, up to about $20 an hour and we're still struggling to find people."

Federal unemployment benefits are set to lapse for about 425,000 Illinoisans. In the hospitality industry, the hope is that at least some of those people will come work for them. Dining rooms and kitchens throughout the state are desperately understaffed.

But despite higher wages being offered, some like Sanchez believe those coming off unemployment are not looking for restaurant jobs.

"A lot of our employees didn't like that uncertainty," she said. "They moved on, and I feel from what I've been hearing is that they moved onto bigger companies that have more security like FedEx. Package deliveries. Amazon is a big one."

A recent study conducted by economists at Harvard, Columbia University and MIT found the positive impact of lapsed benefits in 19 states which chose to end supplemental assistance back in June has been minimal, while household spending has fallen by 20%.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository expects food insecurity will rise as many of those currently unemployed have health- or childcare-related reasons for not taking on new jobs.

"It's going to be a tremendous hardship for them and their families,' said Greg Trotter, Greater Chicago Food Depository. "We certainly expect that there will be an increase in need across our network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across the country."

The expiration of federal supplemental unemployment benefits has no impact on recipients of the state of Illinois' regular unemployment program, so those still receiving their first 26 weeks of regular benefits should continue to certify as normal.