Unemployment benefits expire for millions of jobless Americans

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CHICAGO — Despite a year and a half into the pandemic, many industries still struggle to hire workers. 

According to the US Department of Labor, 8.4 million people are still unemployed. Starting Monday, an estimated 8.9 million people will lose all unemployment benefits. A federal eviction moratorium already has expired.

Many left the restaurant industry, like Gianna Rhinehart, a mother who told WGN she worries about child care. 
 
“Many people like to bash everybody and say ‘go get a job.’ If it were that easy, I’d be working right now,” Rhinehart said.  
 
US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh believes the top fears among potential job seekers are lack of child care and the fear of the coronavirus and its Delta variant. 

Monday in Illinois, 450,000 people are losing federal unemployment benefits, many of whom took part in the CARES Act. Initially, the out-of-work received an extra $600 a week of unemployment. Then, a year ago, it was reduced to $300 a week, even for gig workers. 

Chetina Walker was a benefits recipient. 

“A lot of people are already struggling still even on this program. This, to me, has been traumatic because it’s my health, my child. It’s coming to days we can’t eat,” she said. 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot highlighted the hire Chicago Help Initiative, which aims to pair job seekers with employers. There are also federal American job centers in Harvey, Wheeling and Pilsen to help people find work. With a record 10 million job openings in the US right now, economists believe unemployment benefits should end. 
 
“All of these things are inner connected and we have to work together to make sure that we understand what the pain points are, put resources together but fundamentally, we have to get people back to work,” Lightfoot said.  

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Todd Maisch, with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, says unemployment benefits were both helpful and harmful.  
 
“They believe the fact people are getting pretty hefty paychecks impacts their ability to go ahead and get them back to work,” he said. “I’m not going to say we shouldn’t have had those extra benefits for people. I do believe very strongly it’s had an impact on people’s willingness to come back to work.”

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