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Joblessness in North Central Idaho approached record highs in April

by Kathryn Tacke, Regional Economist Idaho Department of Labor

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 populous region, the Southwest, had a rate of 12.3 percent. Eastern Idaho (Idaho Falls area) and Southeast Idaho (Pocatello area) had the lowest 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 1982, 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 area's nonfarm 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 turn 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 claims. That was still 40 percent higher than those filed during the last week before the coronavirus hit, the week ending March 14.


Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment jumped to 11.5 percent and non-farm payrolls lost 79,500 jobs in April due to the effects of COVID-19.

April's rate increased nine percentage points from a record low 2.5 percent in March to an all-time high of 10.2 percent in December 1982 and a Great Recession peak of 9.6 percent in June 2009.

Total employment dropped by 83,842 to 788,816, a decrease of 9.6 percent, while the number of unemployed Idahoans grew by 81,001 - nearly five-fold - to 102,975.

Idaho's seasonally adjusted labor force stayed somewhat steady, decreasing slightly by 2,841 to 891,791.

April's labor force participation rate - the percentage of people 16 years and older with jobs or looking for work - dropped from 64.2 percent to 63.9 percent, the largest over-the-month participation rate decline on record, and the lowest participation rate for Idaho since mid-2017.

Idaho nonfarm payrolls lost 79,500 jobs, down 10.4 percent to 687,700 for April, the first month the state reported fewer than 700,000 total nonfarm jobs since August 2016.

Four industry sectors saw over-the-month decreases of 10 percent or more in April - leisure and hospitality (-42.3 percent), other services (-24.5 percent), information (-18.9 percent) and education and health services (-12.8 percent). These four sectors include many establishments most affected by COVID-19 safety measures including restaurants, ski resorts and golf courses, repair shops, salons, movie theaters, schools and non-emergency health care services. Natural resources was the only industry sector to show any payroll gains with an increase of 100 jobs.

Year over year, the total number of Idahoans with jobs dropped 7.3 percent (-62,105) while the number of unemployed increased by 77,134 (+299 percent).

Idaho's labor force showed an over-the-year gain of 15,029 people, up 1.7 percent from April 2019. Seasonally-adjusted nonfarm jobs were down 9 percent representing an over-the-year loss of 68,200 jobs. Three sectors continued to see employment levels higher than April 2019 - natural resources (+5.4 percent), financial activities (+1.6 percent) and construction (+0.2 percent) - but combined, these over-the-year gains of 900 jobs were offset by large losses in other sectors.

All of Idaho's five Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) saw nonfarm job declines from March to April 2020. Job losses in three MSAs exceeded the statewide average including Lewiston (-14.8 percent), Coeur d'Alene (-13.6 percent) and Pocatello (-11.4 percent). Job losses for the Boise MSA reached 10.3 percent, while Idaho Falls saw a smaller loss of 4.3 percent.

Year over year, all five Idaho MSAs experienced significant job declines. Lewiston experienced the largest over-the-year percent job loss at -14.8, while the Idaho Falls MSA saw the smallest job loss at -0.4 percent.

Regular unemployment insurance benefit payments were up 627.8 percent from a weekly average of $1,676,419 one year ago to a weekly average payout of $12,201,799 in April 2020. The number of claimants increased by 752.7 percent to a weekly average of 42,266 from 4,957 one year ago.

Nationally, unemployment reached 14.7 percent in April. The number of unemployed persons rose by 15.9 million to 23.1 million in April. One year earlier, the national unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, while the number of unemployed reached 5.9 million. [https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm]

Labor force data for Idaho's counties and cities can be found at https://lmi.idaho.gov/laus.

For details on Idaho's labor market, visit lmi.Idaho.gov.

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