Unemployment rates

Unemployment rates in North Central Idaho soared from near record lows in March to near record highs in April. The region as a whole saw its unemployment rise from 2.7 percent in March to 11.4 percent in April. That was considerably higher than the Great Recession peak of 8.6 percent in September 2011, but lower than the post-1940 record level of 14.5 percent in October 1982. The number of unemployed residents in the region rose from 1,412 in March to 5,696 in April.

North Central Idaho had the third highest jobless rate of Idaho’s regions. Northern Idaho’s rate in April was 16.7 percent and the state’s most populated region, the Southwest, had a rate of 12.3 percent. Eastern Idaho (Idaho Falls area) and Southeast Idaho (Pocatello area) had the lowet rates of 7.1 percent and 8.4 percent respectively. South Central (the Twin Falls area) had an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent.

Our region’s rate was one-tenth of a percentage lower than the state’s rate of 11.5 percent. The nation’s rate climbed from 4.4 percent in March to 14.7 percent in April. For both Idaho and the U.S. April’s rates were the highest level since the Great Depression.

Clearwater County’s unemployment rate soared from a record low of 4.4 percent in March to 14.9 percent in April. Despite that massive spike, its rate went from being the second highest of Idaho’s 44 counties to ninth highest. Blaine County (the touristy Sun Valley area that also had Idaho’s worst coronavirus outbreak) had the highest rate at 21.7 percent. Valley County (the McCall area, which also is highly tourist-oriented) had the second highest at 20.4 percent. Clearwater County’s record high jobless rate occurred in December 1982, when it climbed to a devastating 33.8 percent.

Idaho County’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate climbed from 3.6 percent to 12.1 percent in April. Its previous unemployment peaks were 13.0 percent in September and October 2010 during the Great Recession, and 20.1 percent in December, a period of severe downturns that especially hurt Idaho’s natural resource sectors. Just two months earlier, this February, the county’s jobless rate had fallen to an all-time low of 3.4 percent.

Latah County’s rate in April reached 9.9 percent—its highest level since the severe recession of the early 1980s, when it peaked at 11.1 percent. The county’s rate in March was 2.2 percent, up a smidge from the record low of 2.1 percent reached in February. The City of Moscow’s rate of 10.5 percent in April was even higher than the county’s rate. Moscow’s restaurant and retail sectors have been devastated by the college students leaving the area as well as the lockdown and dampened consumer spending caused by income losses and anxieties about the economy, including the layoffs expected to occur at the University of Idaho.

Lewis County’s jobless rate jumped from 4.5 percent in March to 14.4 percent in April. That rate was only one-tenth of a percentage point below the post-1940 record of 14.5 percent in August 1980. Its March rate approached its record low of 4.3 percent in the spring of 2014.

Nez Perce County’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose from 2.5 percent in March to 11.9 percent in April. That rate tied with the county’s record set in April 1980. Before the coronavirus, the county’s rate had fallen to a record low of 2.2 percent in February. The City of Lewiston’s rate jumped even more the county’s rate—rising from 2.3 percent in March to 12.1 percent in April.

The Lewiston metro area (Nez Perce and Asotin Counties) saw its rate rise from a low of 2.7 percent in March to 10.9 percent in April. The number of unemployed residents rose from 849 to 3,179.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the Lewiston metro areas non-farm payroll jobs dropped 14.8 percent between March and April. That was the largest drop of Idaho’s metro areas. Idaho’s nonfarm payroll jobs fell 10.4 percent, while U.S. nonfarm payroll jobs fell 13.5 percent.

It’s important to remember that jobless rates capture only some of the pain inflicted on North Central Idaho residents. Business owners have seen steep curtailments in revenues and unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty about what their businesses will endure because of COVID-19. Many of the people who remained employed had sharp reductions in the hours they were able to work and some had reductions in pay, bonuses, tips, and self-employment income.

What’s to Come?

With many businesses reopening in the last two weeks, many jobs have been restored. But the global economic downturn, the extreme decrease in tourism activity, and reduced local incomes affecting consumer spending (which in turns results in job losses) are likely to continue to cause some job losses to persist for a few months or even years.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance have fallen in the few weeks in North Central Idaho, as well as in Idaho and the U.S. However, they still are high relative to the pre-coronavirus period of economic prosperity.

In the week that ended on Saturday, May 16, North Central Idaho residents filed 132 new claim. That was still 40 percent higher than those filed during the last week before the coronavirus hit, the week ending March 14.

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