Coronavirus continues to throw surprises at North Central Idaho. Its seasonally adjusted unemployment jumped from 4.1 percent in August to 6.2 percent in September, according to statistics released today by the Idaho Department of Labor. All of the region’s counties had sharp increases in unemployment. Their rates remain far below their coronavirus-era peaks in April but roughly double their pre-coroanvirus lows in February, which were record lows.

Idaho’s unemployment also rose sharply from 4.2 percent in August to 6.1 percent a month later.

The total number of unemployed residents in North Central Idaho grew from about 2,200 in August to about 3,300 a month later. In February, before the pandemic, about 1,400 residents were jobless.

About 900 of the newly unemployed in Clearwater, Idaho, Lewis, and Nez Perce counties were people rejoining the labor force, because they perceived better opportunities to find work. When people join the labor force by starting to look for work, they are counted as unemployed until they find employment. Discouraged workers—people who gave up looking for work after they lost their jobs in March or April—were counted as “out of the labor force” and not included in the counted of “unemployed”—a definition which requires that people be actively searching for work. A temporary increase in unemployment as formerly discouraged workers re-enter the labor force is normal in many recoveries.

The unprecedented economic shock caused by the onset of the pandemic and the tremendous uncertainty about the course of Covid-19 itself and of the recovery from the recession are likely to continue to bring surprises—both good and bad.

A bright note in data released today was job growth at employers in the Lewiston metro area. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, total nonfarm payroll jobs in the Lewiston metro area (Nez Perce and Asotin counties) grew 1.5 percent between August and September. That was the fastest growth among Idaho’s five metro areas. Nonfarm payroll jobs this September were about two percent lower than in September 2019.

Unemployment claims data suggests unemployment edged down a bit since the September unemployment rates (which were for the week of Sept. 12). In the four weeks between Sept. 13 and Oct. 10, 192 North Central Idaho workers filed new unemployment claims. That was down from 228 in the previous four weeks. That was far less than the 2,815 filed in the four weeks ending April 11. But it was 60 percent higher than in the 120 in the same four-week period in late September and early October 2019.

As of Oct. 10, 11 percent of the region’s workers had filed initial unemployment claims since the pandemic begin.

Idaho’s September labor force reaches record high

Record growth in the state’s seasonally adjusted labor force increased September’s unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, up from 4.2 percent in August. The labor force is up by 22,129 (+2.5 percent) to 918,644. As a result, the number of unemployed increased by 18,806, even as total employment continued to grow by 3,323 (+0.4 percent).

The record gains also pushed the state’s labor force participation rate – the percentage of people 16 years and older with jobs or looking for work – up from 63.7 percent in August to 65.1 percent in September. The last time Idaho’s participation rate was at or above 65.1 percent was in August 2010 – just over 10 years ago.

Total nonfarm jobs dropped by 1,000 (-0.1 percent) to 758,600 for September. A substantial gain of 1,800 jobs in leisure and hospitality (+2.3 percent), combined with modest increases in financial activities, natural resources, and trade, transportation and utilities, were not enough to compensate for job declines in other industries, including a loss of 2,200 jobs in government (-1.7 percent).

Three of Idaho’s five Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) saw month-to-month nonfarm job growth with Lewiston showing the fastest job gains at 1.5 percent, while Idaho Falls and Boise experienced slight declines.

Year over year, Idaho’s labor force was up by 30,849 (+3.5 percent) to 918,644. Total employment - up by only 119 to 862,341 - was essentially unchanged from September 2019. The number of unemployed was up by 30,730 (+120.2 percent) to 56,303.

September’s year-over-year decrease of 5,700 seasonally adjusted nonfarm jobs (-0.7 percent) represents a deeper deficit from August’s revised loss of 4,100 jobs (-0.5 percent). Seven of Idaho’s industry sectors showed year-over-year losses with the largest declines in education and health services, down 4,100 jobs (-3.7 percent), and leisure and hospitality, down 3,600 jobs (-4.8 percent). Four sectors shared year-over-year gains with trade, transportation and utilities showing the largest increase of 4,100 jobs (+2.8 percent) and financial activities up by 2,400 jobs (+6.4 percent).

Idaho Falls continued to be the only MSA to show year-over-year nonfarm job gains at 3.7 percent. The remaining four MSAs saw job losses with Coeur d’Alene showing the largest decrease at 4.9 percent.

Regular unemployment insurance benefit payments were up 186 percent from a weekly average of $823,900 a year ago to $2,355,500, while the number of claimants grew 259 percent to 8,870 from a weekly average of 2,470 a year ago.

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.9 percent, and the number of unemployed dropped by 970,000 to 12.6 million. One year earlier, 5.8 million people were unemployed, and the national unemployment rate was 3.5 percent. [https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm]

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