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Economic crisis caused by COVID-19 continues to put local residents our of work

by Kathryn Tacke, Regional Economist with Idaho Department of Labor

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 continues to put North Central Idaho residents out of work.

In the week ending April 18, 313 North Central Idaho workers filed unemployment insurance claims. In the first five weeks of the coronavirus economic crisis, beginning March 15 and ending April 18, a total of 3,218 residents filed claims. About 6.1 percent of the region's residents who had jobs before the coronavirus crisis filed unemployment insurance claims in the first five weeks of the crisis.

In an average week in 2019, 141 residents in the region filed unemployment insurance claims. In an average week of the first five weeks of the coronavirus crisis, 626 residents filed claims.

COVID-19 also is slamming the region's ranchers, who face low cattle prices and great uncertainty about future demand. According to the census of agriculture conducted every five years, 854 farms and ranches in North Central Idaho raised more than 52,000 cattle and calves in 2017, and the total market value of livestock sold was $34.6 million. Idaho County raises more than half of the cattle raised in the region. The shutdown of restaurants across the U.S. sharply reduced beef sales, pushing cattle prices down. The June futures contract for live fed cattle, which was $112 per hundredweight in February, closed at $80 April 13. The global economic downturn might further depress cattle prices, because American beef is sold around the globe. Source: Capital Press

The Nez Perce Tribe is striving to help its tribe members who have lost jobs because of the COVID-19 crisis return to work. Native American residents in North Central Idaho workers who identified themselves as American Indians or Native Alaskans filed 113 unemployment insurance claims between March 15 and April 12. That was about 9 percent of the Native Americans who held payroll jobs in the region before the crisis. Source: Idaho Department of Labor

Clearwater County

The Idaho Youth Challenge Academy in Pierce closed in late March, sending its 116 cadets home because of the COVID-19 shutdown. The National Guard school helps high school students or dropouts from all over Idaho through boot-camp-style training combined with high school education, volunteer experiences, and one-on-one counseling and mentorships that last for a year after they complete the program. It educates two classes every year. Cadets were given three options: withdraw from the program and be awarded the credits they earned up until the academy's closure; withdraw and be given a "golden ticket" to come back for the next class that starts July 18; or finish out their schooling remotely. Half of the cadets decided to complete the course remotely, 45 percent chose to come back in July, and 5 percent opted to retrieve the seven credits they had completed so far and leave the academy for good. Source: Lewiston Tribune

Latah County

Since consumers began stocking up on shelf-stable food for the COVID-19 crisis in February, dry beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas have been in high demand. Columbia Grain International at Portland reported a 40 percent increase in demand for pulse crops, and processing plants are working around the clock to fulfill an ever-increasing number of orders. The demand surge lead to a 12 percent bump in prices for growers in Latah County and neighboring counties, one of the leading producers of pulse crops in the U.S. Some farmers planted more acres with peas and lentils because of the demand surge. Source: Lewiston Tribune

Northwest River Supplies plans to distribute tens of thousands of personal protective equipment to medical personnel and first responders in the Moscow-Pullman area in the coming weeks. The company is a global distributor and manufacturer of paddle sports equipment and apparel that employs nearly 100 people at its Moscow headquarters. The company operates a business division that supplies safety and rescue equipment to government agencies and nongovernmental organizations for emergency preparedness and disaster relief. It now is using that division's supply chain to bring PPE to NRS headquarters, where it is redistributed to local hospitals and fire departments. The first shipment of PPE-including masks, respirators, goggles, gloves and gowns-arrived in Moscow in mid-April. The first shipment totaled about 60,000 pieces of PPE. The company expects tens of thousands of units to arrive each week in the coming weeks. NRS will offer local medical providers fair-market pricing for PPE. NRS found that it has become much harder to move PPE from China to the U.S. in the last three weeks because new shipping rules imposed by the Chinese government delay shipments, flights often are canceled, and sometimes shipments are being bid away by other buyers. Source: Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport will receive $18 million from the Federal Aviation Administration under the CARES Act. The airport will use a small part of the grant to cover payroll costs during the tremendous decline in air travel caused by COVID-19, but plans to use the vast majority of it to build a much larger terminal. The airport currently is in the design phase for the terminal and construction could begin in 2021. The terminal construction will cost between $30 and $50 million. The airport already has $21 million in Federal Aviation Administration money in addition to the $18 million CARES Act grant. Before the coronavirus, the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport was on track to serve a record number of passengers in 2020, A total of 17,636 passengers boarded flights at the Palouse airport in January, February and March, 392 more than during the same time the previous year. Now, Alaska Airlines' Horizon Air is operating just one round-trip flight a day between Pullman and Seattle, compared with as many as five round trips earlier in the year. Source: Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Nez Perce and Asotin Counties

Like airports across the country, the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport has experienced a huge decrease in air travel. The number of daily SkyWest round-trip flights to Salt Lake City has dropped from three in February to one now, and far fewer passengers are on the average flight. The steep decline is hurting almost every form of revenue the airports receive, including landing fees, parking fees, leases from car rental companies, and a $4.39 passenger facility charge that airports receive for each person who boards a plane at their facilities. To help airports across the U.S. cope with the drop in revenues, the CARES Act is providing federal aid to airports. The Federal Aviation Administration will provide $1.24 million for the Lewiston airport. Source: Lewiston Tribune; Idaho Business Review


Laid off Idaho workers filed 108,984 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the first five weeks of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Initial claims reached 13,023 during the week ending April 18, a 30 percent decline from the previous week - but still 12 times greater than all of 2019's weekly average.

It was the second week the number of new claims fell, while continued claims - the number of valid claims filed by people who are eligible, currently claiming benefits and still unable to return to work - reached 67,722.

Health care and social assistance jobs represented 19 percent of all new claims, followed by accommodations and food services, and retail at almost 15 percent each. Combined, the three sectors represent nearly half - 48.6 percent - of the total new claims filed during the week.

COVID-19 layoffs continue to affect people of all ages, with young people under age 25 representing more than 25 percent of initial claims for the week. Women represent 56 percent.

The Department of Labor paid out $31.3 million in benefits to laid-off Idaho workers between March 23 and April 18. Payouts for the week of April 12 - 18 reached $12.8 million, a 33.9 percent increase over the previous week, and seven times higher than the same week in 2019.

Weekly claims by county and industry are available on a data dashboard at https://lmi.idaho.gov/ui-weekly-claims.

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