The usual Thursday jobs report is out and we’ve got the numbers on both the federal and state level. The story continues as well on the $300 extra unemployment bump. We also have reports on vaccine booster possibilities, the travel surge, and today’s latest on redistricting.
*Daily Coronavirus update brought to you by Silver Cross Hospital
Statewide Unemployment Rate Unchanged
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) announced today that the unemployment rate remained at 7.1 percent, while nonfarm payrolls were about unchanged, up +300 jobs, in April, based on preliminary data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and released by IDES. The March monthly change in payrolls was revised from the preliminary report, down from +32,300 to +28,900 jobs. The March preliminary unemployment rate was unchanged from the preliminary report, remaining at 7.1 percent.
In April, the three industry sectors with the largest over-the-month gains in employment were: Leisure and Hospitality (+8,100), Government (+4,300) and Construction (+4,000). The industry sectors that reported monthly payroll declines were: Manufacturing (-7,800), Professional and Business Services (-4,900), Educational and Health Services (-2,800) and Trade, Transportation and Utilities (-2,800).
“As the state works through the bridge phase to a full reopening, IDES will continue to support claimants while also ensuring information is provided that supports both employers and jobseekers,” said Deputy Governor Dan Hynes. “IDES and the Pritzker administration look forward to working with the Biden administration and US DOL to identify and implement new strategies to reengage dislocated workers into the labor force.”
The state’s unemployment rate was +1.0 percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate reported for April, which was 6.1 percent, up +0.1 percentage point from the previous month. The Illinois unemployment rate was down -9.4 percentage points from a year ago when it was at 16.5 percent.
U.S. Jobless Claims
The number of workers seeking and receiving unemployment benefits through state and federal programs has reached pandemic lows. A move by Republican-led states to end a $300 federal benefit early will likely further reduce benefits totals this summer.
Initial unemployment claims through regular state programs dropped to 444,000 last week, marking a new low level since the pandemic hit in mid-March 2020.
The number of people claiming benefits through state and pandemic-related programs also declined in the week ended May 1 to a pandemic low of 16 million people from 16.9 million a week earlier, the Labor Department said on Thursday. That includes benefits through one of several programs, including regular state aid and federal emergency programs put in place in response to the pandemic.
U.S. stocks rose Thursday after release of the jobless claims data showed layoffs further easing in the labor market, putting major indexes on track to snap a three-day losing streak.
Though jobless claims are on a downward trend, April’s job gain of 266,000 fell far short of the one million economists had forecast, fueling concerns about the recovery. Republicans also are concerned that enhanced federal unemployment payments are discouraging people from seeking work.
This week Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana joined the list of at least 22 states that are cutting off access to federal benefits early after a much weaker-than-expected April jobs report sparked concerns of labor shortages. States are opting out of the $300 supplemental benefit, extended payments, and benefits for gig-economy and other workers not typically eligible for unemployment benefits.
States have announced dates ranging from mid-June to mid-July for when they will stop processing pandemic-related benefits. That means nearly 3.7 million individuals could lose the $300 weekly benefits—which were set to expire in early September—beginning in mid-June, according to estimates by forecasting firm Oxford Economics.
Of those, about 1.45 million will also lose pandemic benefits for gig workers, and about 1.31 million will no longer have access to extended benefits that kick in after claimants exhaust their regular state benefits.
Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, sees unemployment benefits as one reason that employers are struggling to find workers. But, he said, other factors are also keeping unemployment recipients on the sidelines, such as parents increased child-care responsibilities during the pandemic and the persistence of the virus.
President Biden has defended the benefits and said his administration would make clear that people can’t turn down suitable jobs and keep collecting benefits, except in specific circumstances. His Democratic administration has said that other factors are deterring job searches, such as workers’ fear of getting sick during the pandemic and a lack of full-time childcare.
Some Democrats argue that employers aren’t paying enough to lure back workers. “Let’s be clear. There is not a shortage of willing workers in America,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats. “There is a shortage of employers willing to pay workers a living wage with decent benefits.”
Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shots Raise Tough Issues
While most countries are still cranking up their vaccination drives, some are already making plans to deliver millions of booster shots into arms later this year.
Concerns that Covid-19 may morph into a seasonal menace are driving preparations in the U.S., the European Union, and the U.K. for a winter vaccine booster program. The plans are precautionary, according to public-health officials, and it isn’t yet certain they will be put into operation or at what scale.
Disease experts say the need for a winter vaccine drive will depend on whether vaccine-induced immunity fades over time and if the current crop of vaccines are effective against virus variants.
Scientists are still gathering data on both those issues, and the answers they find will shape the design of any booster program, including who would get one and which vaccine they might receive.
Some public-health experts say talk of booster programs is premature, given the gaps in our knowledge about the virus and the vaccines that combat it, as well as the urgent need for shots in countries such as India where the virus is spreading rapidly. “We need to have data’’ to determine if and when third doses are needed, the European Medicines Agency’s head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy, Marco Cavaleri, said this month. But others say governments are right to move fast rather than wait for these questions to be settled.
“There is no point planning it if you have already got a resurgence,” said David Salisbury, a former director of immunization programs in the U.K. who is now an associate fellow in global health at the international affairs think tank Chatham House.
The EU said this month that it signed a contract with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE of Germany for another 1.8 billion doses of their Covid-19 vaccine for delivery through 2023. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said the doses have been earmarked for booster shots and donations, or reselling if they aren’t needed. The population of the EU is almost 450 million, meaning that order alone would be enough to give everyone in the bloc two shots, in addition to the millions of shots already administered.
The U.K. said in April it ordered 60 million more doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech shot as part of its preparations for a fall and winter booster program. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the plans are aimed at ensuring the elderly and vulnerable have the greatest possible protection against disease heading into the colder months, when increased indoor gathering gives the virus more chance to spread. Scientists in the U.K. on Wednesday began recruiting for a clinical trial to investigate the effects of a third dose of vaccine on volunteers’ immune responses.
In the U.S., David Kessler, chief science officer of the White House Covid-19 response team, told lawmakers in April that booster shots might be needed within a year, and if so they will be provided free of charge, with the elderly likely first in line. The U.S. is forecast to amass a surplus of 300 million doses of five vaccines by the end of 2021, even after assuming all adults and children over 5 years old are vaccinated, according to projections from health and science data company Airfinty Ltd.
Some vaccines, such as those given in childhood for measles, mumps, and rubella, offer lifelong immunity against disease. For others, booster shots are recommended at periodic intervals or if the risk of exposure climbs. Adult booster shots for tetanus and meningitis are a common feature of national immunization schedules.
Influenza, by contrast, mutates quickly and shots are tailor-made each year to protect people against circulating strains.
Exactly where the vaccines developed against Covid-19 fit on this spectrum isn’t yet clear. Some scientists are optimistic the vaccines will confer long-lasting immunity, while others aren’t so sure. Another issue is whether existing vaccines provide sufficient protection against variants of concern, such as those first identified in South Africa and India, and if they will stand up to any new variants that may yet emerge. “We don’t have a full picture of what the pathway is to protection,” said Gigi Gronvall, an immunologist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Complicating both questions are the different technologies being used in the world’s armory of vaccines. Shots that use an inactivated virus to stimulate the immune system might perform differently from others that use messenger RNA, a molecule that directs cells to make antibodies against the virus. Little is known about the risk of side effects from multiple doses.
Governments considering booster programs also face logistical hurdles, such as whether to vaccinate everyone or just the elderly and vulnerable. Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said it wouldn’t be a surprise if vaccine-induced immunity diminished over time, as a similar phenomenon is seen in natural infection with other coronaviruses.
The evidence for Covid-19 vaccines so far is limited and inconclusive: Pfizer and BioNTech have said their vaccine is around 91% effective against Covid-19 six months after a second dose, down slightly from the 95% level observed in clinical trials. Evidence of waning immunity would strengthen the case for a third dose to top up people’s protection as winter approaches, said Prof. Hunter. Existing vaccines would still have a role to play in booster programs if they bolster protection against widely circulating strains such as B.1.1.7, a variant first detected in England, while newer vaccines aimed more squarely at other variants move through clinical trials and regulatory scrutiny, said Prof. Salisbury.
Moderna Inc., for instance, is developing a vaccine tuned to fight the South Africa variant B.1.351. GlaxoSmithKline PLC is working with Germany’s CureVac NV on an early-stage vaccine designed to combat multiple variants, and with Sanofi SA on a more advanced candidate the companies say could be deployed as a booster shot, after trials pointed to a robust immune response in people already exposed to the virus.
For some scientists, the case for Western nations using up more shots while the pandemic rages elsewhere is weak. Peter English, a public-health physician who worked as a consultant in using vaccines to control infectious diseases, said he is skeptical that immunity will wane significantly anytime soon in those who have been fully vaccinated and doses of first-generation vaccines could be put to better use.
“If we’re not going to use a variant vaccine, we’d be better off shipping the vaccine to India or somewhere where they need it more than we do,” he said.
The U.S. Travel Surge Isn’t Coming—It’s Here
The numbers do tell the story, at least for travel. A close look at the stats shows a big vaccine-fueled domestic travel surge and anticipation of a crowded summer travel season, with ticket prices already getting close to the expensive summer of 2019. Yet in many areas—international travel and hotel occupancy in many cities—the recovery hasn’t happened yet.
Here are some bright spots, as well as lingering areas of concern:
-35% or +715%
Take your pick. TSA airport screenings in the first 16 days of May have been down 35% compared with the number of people at airports in 2019—or up 715% compared with the same days in May last year. Either way, you can gauge progress through those numbers.
With international travel still so restricted (though the European Union on Wednesday took a step toward opening its borders to vaccinated tourists) and business travel still only a fraction of what it once was, you’re not going to get anywhere close to full 2019 restoration. And yet to only be down 35% without those two huge travel components shows just how strong the domestic travel surge is now that more people are vaccinated.
Indeed, the fact that TSA has screened more than 24 million travelers so far this month, compared with 3 million in the same period of last year, is solid evidence of solid recovery. But it’s still not the 38 million of 2019.
The average round-trip ticket sold through early May for summer travel was $408. That’s only $18 cheaper than the average round trip for summer trips sold in the same period of 2019, according to Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets sold by travel agencies.
“While average fares are still a slight bargain compared to 2019, that savings is rapidly disappearing, and seats to popular destinations are filling up quickly,” ARC said.
Tickets bought for this summer in the fourth quarter of last year—people planning early and betting they’d be able to travel by summer—were $71 cheaper on average, according to ARC.
Travel for summer is rapidly recovering to 2019 levels, especially to destinations in the South, the Rocky Mountain states and Hawaii, ARC says. Destinations with more business travel, such as mid-Atlantic states and the West Coast, lag.
That’s the total amount of fines the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed for 18 passengers for disruptive behavior during the pandemic. In two-thirds of the cases brought against passengers, masks were specifically mentioned as a trigger for arguments between passengers and crew. Alcohol was another factor in most.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks—except on public transportation, including airplanes and airports, and a few other settings. That could lead to more clashes. Airlines are stuck with enforcing a confusing public policy.
So far, the FAA’s proposed civil penalties average more than $18,000 per passenger. The largest single proposed fine was $52,500 against a Delta passenger who, the FAA alleges, tried to open the cockpit door on a flight from Honolulu to Seattle two days before Christmas. The passenger hit a flight attendant twice in the face, once after escaping plastic handcuffs, the FAA says.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson signed a January order directing stricter legal enforcement against unruly passengers because of a “disturbing increase in incidents.” The order meant the FAA was dropping its traditional warnings and counseling for disruptive passengers and going straight to stiff penalties.
Federal law requires passengers to comply with crew member instructions, whether they agree with them or not. In addition to the civil fines, federal law also allows for criminal fines and imprisonment of passengers who interfere with crew members by assaulting or intimidating them.
That’s the percentage of planes in storage at American, United, Delta and Southwest combined as of May 14, according to Cirium, an aviation data company. One year ago, 56% of the planes at the four largest U.S. carriers were in storage. That amounted to nearly 2,000 airplanes in storage as of May 14 last year—airlines normally have very few planes in storage.
Southwest has the highest percentage of its fleet in service, with only 15% of its all-737 fleet in storage. American, which has the largest fleet, with more than 1,000 jets, still has 24% in storage. But American has said it would activate most of its fleet by the end of June.
Hotel occupancy in the U.S. remains below 2020 levels and way below 2019 levels, according to STR, a company that tracks hotel-industry data. The percentage of rooms filled during the week of May 2-8 of 56.7% was actually an eight-week low, which reflects more an increasing supply than weaker demand, since more hotels are reopening, according to STR. A total of 284,000 additional rooms were available in the first week of May compared with a week earlier. STR said significant reopenings happened on the Jersey Shore and in Alaska, Washington, D.C., and New York City.
For the same week last year, 68.1% of hotel rooms were filled. At the time, many rooms were filled with healthcare workers who rushed to cities overwhelmed by infected and dying patients. During the same week of 2019, hotel occupancy was 83.3%.
While domestic travel has experienced a vaccine-infused rebirth, international travel remains deeply depressed, except for beach destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. The number of people arriving in the U.S. by air is still down 76% compared with 2019 levels, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency.
CBP data show that on average, only 2.5 million international air passengers have arrived each month so far this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. In 2019, there were 10.6 million a month on average in the same period.
Airlines think it will be next year before significant long-distance international flying resumes.
Dutch Harbor, Alaska, has seen the biggest percentage increase in airline seats among U.S. airports, with a 438% increase in June schedules compared with June 2019. The Aleutian Island outpost had only 664 seats in June 2019—83 flights during the month on eight-passenger planes. Now Dutch Harbor is getting more flights and bigger planes, and will have 3,572 seats next month, according to Cirium.
Somewhat larger domestic tourist destinations are seeing big increases, of course. Key West, Fla., will have a 141% increase in airline seats this June compared with two years ago. Sarasota, Fla., will be up 136%, Bozeman, Mont., up 78%, Fort Myers, Fla., up 62%.
Among big airports, Miami is the winner with a 35% increase in seats scheduled for June compared with June 2019. That reflects not only the popularity of going to Florida for vacation but also connecting traffic to and from the Caribbean. Salt Lake City and Orlando are other big hubs with more seats scheduled in June than before the pandemic.
San Francisco International has the biggest loss of seats in June schedules compared with June 2019, down 51%. New York LaGuardia is almost as bad, with half the seats in June this year compared with 2019.
GOP Leaders and Governor Pritzker Continue Argument Over Redistricting
With less than two weeks left in session, Republican and Democratic leaders in Illinois continue to argue about how “fair” the state’s next map will be. House and Senate Republican leaders continue to mention that Gov. JB Pritzker campaigned on a goal for an independent redistricting process. Then-candidate Pritzker also pledged to veto any map created by lawmakers, political party leaders, and their staff or allies.
The Capitol Bureau asked the governor Wednesday if he still plans to reject a partisan map. Pritzker said he’ll veto any “unfair” map. However, he also said he feels it’s important for Democrats and Republicans to work together through this process.
“I have not seen a map from the Republicans, I think I would have liked to have seen what they would like to see,” Pritzker added. “I have not seen what the Democrats have come up with yet. So, I hope they’ll produce a map soon too, and we’ll see where we go.
Republicans have said they wouldn’t draw a map until after the actual 2020 Census data is released in August or September. GOP members say Democrats have blocked them from making decisions on the maps. Although, Pritzker says Republicans participated in the many redistricting committee hearings held across the state. He also claims it was an “open process.” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin disagrees.
“There’s no real input from the public, there’s no transparency,” Durkin said. “There isn’t even a real idea of what phony data that they’re trying to use in order to pass partisan maps. Governor Pritzker has shown no leadership from the second floor to tell Democrats to do the right thing.”
Durkin said it’s important for the governor and members of the General Assembly to live up to their promises. Still, many expect Democrats to release their map by the end of the week. They could also vote on the proposed map by May 31 despite calls for a two-week period for the public to see the maps.
Program Notices & Reminders – Expanded Information
Will County Announces Round 3 of CARES Act Funding
Will County is pleased to announce Round 3 of the CARES Act Small Business Grant Program for Will County businesses adversely impacted by the recent pandemic. All small businesses physically located in Will County able to demonstrate COVID-19 impact are encouraged to apply for these grants of up to $10,000. The following criteria must be met to determine eligibility:
• Have not received a previous Will County Small Business Grant
• Annual revenues under $5 Million in 2020
• Less than 50 full time employees in 2020
• In operation since February 15, 2020, or earlier
• Have proof of COVID-19 impact
• In good standing with the IRS, State of Illinois, and Will County
• Not currently in bankruptcy
For more information and to apply visit: www.willcountyillinois.com/COVIDbizgrant
All required documents must be included and uploaded with each application. This is a requirement to expedite the review of eligibility and determine approval for the grant monies. Priority will be given to businesses located in the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Disproportionately Impacted Area (DIA). DIA zip codes in Will County include: 60432, 60435, 60436, 60466, and 60471.
CDC Mask Guidance
The CDC still recommends that unvaccinated people continue to take preventive measures, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. In their latest guidance, the CDC now reports that indoor and outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people and that fully vaccinated people have a reduced risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to unvaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated people can:
• Resume activities without wearing masks or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance
• Resume domestic travel and refrain from testing before or after travel or self-quarantine after travel
• Refrain from testing before leaving the United States for international travel (unless required by the destination) and refrain from self-quarantine after arriving back in the United States
• Refrain from testing following a known exposure, if asymptomatic, with some exceptions for specific settings
• Refrain from quarantine following a known exposure if asymptomatic
• Refrain from routine screening testing if feasible
For now, fully vaccinated people should continue to:
• Get tested if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
• Follow CDC and health department travel requirements and recommendations
Governor Pritzker Mask Changes:
Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund
The deadline for this program is Monday, May 24th.
- If you haven’t already, register for an account on the application portal at restaurants.sba.gov. If you are working with Square or Toast, you do not need to register.
- Review the sample application, program guide and cross-program eligibility chart on SBA COVID-19 relief options. SBA also added screenshots of the application portal that are available here.
- Applications must be submitted in English or Spanish. SBA has documents in additional languages to help you understand eligibility requirements, fill out applications, and answer frequently asked questions. See the additional languages and materials here.
- If you were unable to attend one of the webinars held last week which covered program details and a demonstration of the application portal, you can watch the recording here.
For more information, visit sba.gov/restaurants.
As the SBA builds and prepares to roll out the program, this dedicated SBA website is the best source for up-to-date information for eligible restaurants interested in the RRF.
Small Business Administration Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program
The SBA has completed rigorous testing and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant application portal reopened on Saturday, April 24 at 12:30pm ET. Updated guidance documents have been posted below. Applicants may continue to register for an application portal account.
- FAQ regarding Shuttered Venue Operators Grant
- SVOG preliminary application checklist
- Cross-program eligibility on SBA COVID-19 relief options
- SVOG-specific version of IRS Form 4506-T
- SVOG applicant user guide
Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program
As of May 6, 2021, funding for the Paycheck Protection Program has been exhausted. The SBA will continue funding outstanding approved PPP applications, but new qualifying applications will only be funded through Community Financial Institution, financial lenders who serve underserved communities
Finally, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and her team want to check in with you, our members to hear about your experience during COVID-19 and federal relief programs. Her office has developed a short survey to allow businesses in the 14th District of Illinois to provide feedback to Congresswoman Underwood about their experience with COVID-19 federal relief programs for businesses including PPP, EIDL, Shuttered Venue, and Restaurant Revitalization Fund; how federal relief programs have benefitted the local small business community; and what assistance they continue to need going forward. The survey can be found here.
We know that a great majority of you do not fit into the 14th District, but there is a sliver and I’m sure they won’t mind the extra feedback even from those out of district since they’ve asked. The survey deadline is May 26 by 6:00 p.m. CT.
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry Staff and Board of Directors
Vice President – Government Affairs
Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry