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Visitors to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's Pilsen office waited for service Wednesday afternoon.

Unemployment office closures push job-seekers online

by Paul Glavic
Jan 16, 2013

The Great Recession was marked by long lines in crowded unemployment offices.  Now, as the downturn slowly ends, the Illinois Department of Employment Security plans to send many of those still in line out the door and toward their computers.

Last week the department announced it will lay off 192 employees and close seven of its branches: Centralia, DeKalb, East St. Louis, Galesburg, Jacksonville, Mattoon and Murphysboro. The closings, which are scheduled for mid-March, are likely to disrupt office visitors unaccustomed to the department’s JobLink website, said department director Jay Rowell.

“The largest public impact is expected to be on those who prefer face-to-face meetings because they are not comfortable using technology, such as the Internet,” Rowell said in a statement.

Rowell cited decreased funding for the department, which relies almost entirely on a federal subsidy, as the reason for eliminating physical offices. The department has already closed 10 other branches since 2010, including five in Chicago. Though Illinois boasted a declining rate of unemployment claims in 2012 compared to 2011, the current rate of claims is 38 percent higher than before the Great Recession.

Now many who file claims and pursue work will have to turn their focus to the Web.

While using the Internet to pursue work will be a challenging experience for some job-seekers, Rowell said they can and must overcome their Web inhibitions in order to find employment in the modern age.

“Overcoming this apprehension is crucial to job readiness and successfully participating in today’s economy,” Rowell said. “Internet availability is not an insurmountable barrier because free access is available across the state at libraries, colleges and career counseling centers.”

The JobLink site isn’t an unqualified hit with users, however.  One recent  user, Michael Hogan, visited the Pilsen employment office after his experiences on the site left him with more questions than answers.

“It’s difficult to maneuver on the screen and find the page that you need to be on,” Hogan said. “It’s a hassle.”

The JobLink website does provide instructional videos that show users how to set up accounts and utilize the site’s features. Users can file unemployment claims and certifications, create and edit a direct deposit and view payment history. The majority of the department’s clients already rely on at least some of JobLink’s services.

“More than half of those applying for benefits do so electronically, and all eligible workers receive their benefit payments electronically through direct deposit or debit card,” Rowell said.

Julian Rossi tried to file his unemployment claim through JobLink with great ease. But when he had specific questions about his particular situation — he is in the military reserve and had questions about his Veterans Affairs benefits — he struggled to find answers through JobLink and needed to visit the department’s Pilsen office.

“It does not have a lot of information on extenuating circumstances,” he said.

JobLink brought in 177,913 new job seeker accounts in 2012. It also listed 260,760 jobs last year.

Rossi would like to see the department create additional support for JobLink — and even take a few people off of the unemployment list in the process.

“How about employing a couple of unemployed people to learn the system,” Rossi said. “Is that really that far out of the realm of logic?”

For the unemployed, shifting toward a Web-based pursuit of work may increase their chances of finding a job.

A September 2011 economic study conducted by Peter Kuhn, an economics professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Hani Mansour, an assistant professor of economics at University of Colorado Denver, revealed that Internet-focused job hunts increase the success of acquiring a job by an average of 25 percent.