Jobless claims spiking in Idaho

Kathryn Tacke

Hundreds of people have lost their jobs in north central Idaho since health officials began recommending people limit social contact to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Significantly more than 400 employees have been downsized in Nez Perce, Latah, Idaho and Clearwater counties, and hundreds of others have had their work hours cut dramatically because of the coronavirus, said Kathryn Tacke, regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor in Lewiston, in an email.

“All I can say is the impact is going to be big and it’s going to hurt a lot for at least two weeks, but it’s too early to quantify it,” she said.

Initial estimates weren’t available for the southeastern Washington counties of Asotin, Whitman and Garfield. But representatives of labor agencies in Idaho and Washington said they anticipate having more data Thursday.

Grocery stores like Albertsons are hiring, said Georgia Smith, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Labor in Boise.

So is Prestige Care and Rehabilitation, which has locations in Lewiston and Clarkston.

Those are among the exceptions.

“I’ve seen the devastating effects of the double-digit-dip recessions of the early 1980s, the double blows of the dot-com crash and the economic effects of 9/11 and the severe recession following the financial crash in 2008,” said Tacke, who has tracked Idaho’s economy since 1981.

“But I have never seen anything that has the widespread impact on so many industries all at once as this COVID-19 economic shake-up,” she said.

The dramatic demise follows a time where north central Idaho’s unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in December was a near-record low.

The shift has a number of causes. Last week, many businesses in Washington state were required to close to comply with an emergency proclamation from Gov. Jay Inslee as part of the government’s response to the illness.

Restaurants had to limit themselves to orders through delivery, takeout and drive-through windows.

A number of ventures in Idaho followed, including the Clearwater River Casino.

Precautions to protect public health and “tremendous drops” in visitors hurt hotels and “anything related to tourism,” Tacke said.

Hair stylists, barbers and massage therapists have seen a “sharp reduction in customers,” she said.

The University of Idaho and Washington State University moving to online classes has reduced the number of students in the area who patronize local businesses and are an important part of the workforce.

In the long term, their absence could result in an undercount for the U.S. Census of the number of students who reside in the region, causing a loss in federal money for Latah and Whitman counties, Tacke said.

The impact is expected to extend to retirees.

“The steep decline in the stock market, caused by concerns about COVID-19’s effects on the economy is likely to affect the ability and willingness of retirees and other individuals who (own) stocks to spend money, which will further impact retail, services and construction,” Tacke said.

At the same time, businesses that depend on advertising such as newspapers, radio and television stations are likely to see big drops in revenue, she said.

“With many workers who live paycheck to paycheck, losing their paychecks during this economic disruption, the effects on them and their families is frightening,” Tacke said.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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