CHAMPAIGN — Carl Agoston said he was shocked to learn his unemployment benefits will end this month, as a result of the state's unemployment rate going down.
Agoston, laid off in October 2010 as a mental health counselor at the Champaign County Correctional Center, said he was notified Wednesday his extended benefits were coming to an end.
Agoston has been seeking jobs in mental health and addictions since being laid off. But as the single parent of a 15-year-old son, "I'm going to have to look at whatever outside of that range," he said.
He said he'll wait tables, if that's what it takes.
The federal extended-benefit program will end May 12 in Illinois, because Illinois' falling unemployment rate makes the state no longer eligible for that money.
The extended-benefit program provides 20 weeks of unemployment insurance, on top of 79 other weeks.
But for a state to continue to be eligible for extended benefits, the three-month moving average of the state's unemployment rate must be at least 10 percent higher than the same period in any one of the previous three years.
On Wednesday, Illinois said it no longer meets that requirement. The state unemployment rate, which peaked at 11.4 percent in January 2010, fell to 8.8 percent in March of this year.
Final payments will be issued during the two weeks following May 12. After that, Agoston will no longer get unemployment compensation that, for him, amounts to about $13 an hour.
The Champaign man said he and his son will have to make do on less money. At the same time, he realizes people working minimum-wage jobs get less per hour than what he got from unemployment compensation.
Before working for the correctional center, Agoston said he worked for the Champaign County Mental Health Center and Prairie Center.
While out of a job, he "did a bunch of volunteer work" and got paid for working with an addictions group a few hours a week, he said.
"Trying to open my own business wasn't an option," he added.
Agoston said he has been applying for positions at Parkland College and the University of Illinois in psychology, research and academic advising, and hopes to land a job locally.
"I've lived here now for 18 years, and my entire career has taken place in the community," he said.
Agoston said he might have to consider moving away to take a job, but realizes there are costs involved in relocating.
In announcing the end of extended benefits this week, Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, hailed the drop in the unemployment rate, but noted "there are still those struggling to find work."
"I encourage anyone who is unemployed or underemployed to visit IllinoisJobLink.com, where they will find more than 90,000 job openings," he said in a release.
That website allows businesses to create want-ads that require specific skills and search resumes using keywords such as salary, educational attainment and location.
Now that the extended-benefit program is ending in Illinois, the maximum number of weeks of unemployment compensation will drop to 79 weeks — and that number could drop further by year's end.
The 79 weeks are divided between regular benefits — paid for by Illinois businesses — and four tiers of Emergency Unemployment Compensation paid for by the federal government.
But under current law, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is scheduled to end Dec. 29, according to the state release.