127,000 may lose unemployment in Illinois

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Unless Congress acts, 2 million people across the nation will lose their unemployment benefits this week--127,000 in Illinois alone.

The lame-duck Congress has until tomorrow to pass another extension of unemployment benefits. Otherwise, all those unemployed who've already maxed out their state benefits will be cut off.

It's a familiar scene. Unemployment is nearly at 10 percent, both statewide and in Chicago, with 397,800 people out of work. Congress has stalled on extending benefits before--cutting off job seekers for 51 days this summer. And another program that subsidized jobs for 26,000 this week, despite a state effort to extend it.

At this point, it's getting hard to remember a time when the economy wasn't terrible. That made me wonder: How much longer might we have?

Quite a lot. Although officials from the U.S. Department of Labor tout the unemployment rate going down a few tenths of a percent each month, it might be a long haul back down to the good old days. I took a look at the unemployment data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security going back 25 years.

The good news: It could be worse. The Chicago metro area's unemployment rate topped out at 11.1 percent last year at this time, not as bad as the 12.5 percent unemployment we had back in early 1983.

The bad news: It took years to recover in the '80s. And not just one or two years, but several.

Our average unemployment rate in the Chicago metro area has been 6.9 percent over the last 25 years. If we use history as a guide, how long might it take us to get back to the average?

Six years. With the absolute high in January 1983 at 12.5 percent, it took until December 1988 to get back down to 6.9 percent.

So, seeing that we topped out about a year ago, people who are still looking for a job might expect things to get back to normal sometime around 2015.

I suppose if we can't get Congress to extend benefits to the jobless for another three months, another five years is really a stretch. But if the '80s have anything to teach us, it might just be to hunker down. The recession may be over, but its aftermath may be with us for awhile.

Photo credit: Mike Licht

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