Fewer Austin residents claim unemployment

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Fewer people in Austin claimed unemployment benefits last month compared to the same time in 2011, according to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

The number of new people in Austin receiving regular unemployment insurance is also slightly lower than last year, according to the employment department’s August report, which compared unemployment data from June 17 to July 14, 2011 to the same time this year in Illinois’ legislative districts.

The decrease in Austin unemployment claimants could be credited to the state’s improving economy.

Overall, Illinois’ unemployment rate has declined from its peak of 10.2 percent in August 2011 to 8.7 percent in July 2012.

An individual’s pot of unemployment money could have also dried up, which could be another reason why total claims are lower, one economist said.

Michael Miller, professor of economics at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business, said people are allowed to receive unemployment benefits for a set amount of time.

“When people run out of unemployment compensation, sometimes that pushes people harder to find work,” Miller said.

Although Illinois’ unemployment rate is higher than the 8.3 percent national average, the local economy is growing moderately, Miller said.

“That’s a good sign.”

But, he added, the recession ended three years ago, and the state’s unemployment numbers should be between 3 to 4 percent—not 8.

Miller said the Chicago region is still one of the weakest economies in the nation.

And there’s also a good chance Chicago will feel the economic impact from the summer’s heat wave and drought that ravaged the Midwest.

But the West Side has seen some positive improvement.

In Illinois’ 7th and 8th House Districts, which incorporates portions of Austin, a total of 3,559 people received unemployment insurance from June 17 to July 14.

That’s 376 less people compared to last year.

These recent numbers were obtained from the Illinois Department of Employment Security’s Legislative Dashboard website. The application does not search by individual district, but instead looks at two neighboring districts.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th) said he was pleased with the recent decrease in unemployment claims.

“I hope that the numbers reflect people who have landed an opportunity and have not given up looking for a job,” Ford said.

Ford’s office sends out weekly newsletters that include job leads within his district and across the state.

“It’s our mission everyday to make sure we continue to provide hope that there are opportunities for jobs,” he said.

In the 77th and 78th Districts, which also include parts of Austin, 2,719 people received benefits—214 fewer than the same time in 2011.

But more people on the West Side recently claimed unemployment benefits compared to some North Side districts.

In the 11th and 12th Districts, which include parts of Lincoln Park and Lakeview, 1,790 people claimed unemployment insurance from June 17 to July 14.

And in the 13th and 14th Districts, which include  Uptown and Lincoln Square, 2,250 people received benefits.

But, Miller said, “things are getting better” on the West Side and across the state.

“It’s just very slow.”

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