Local jobless rate falls to pre-pandemic levels

Friday, December 4, 2020

Buena Vista County’s unemployment rate has fully recovered from the avalanche of pandemic-enduced joblessness that has marked much of 2020.

The just-released numbers for October show the county at 2.2 percent unemployment, the same rate as in February, before the Coronavirus outbreak. About 270 BV residents are currently estimated as out of work.

“The drop in the unemployment rate in October is a ray of sunshine and demonstrates that Iowa continues to recover economically from the effects of the pandemic,” said Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend. “It’s important to note that employers are still looking for employees and there are over 72,000 openings posted on iowaworks.gov.”

Unemployment in Buena Vista County had peaked in June at 6.6 percent, then declined each month since. In September, the rate was 3.1 percent. The county is still slightly above the very low jobless rate of fall 2019, with 1.7 percent in October last year. Winter rates locally tend to be slightly higher, with predictable seasonal layoffs.

The brighter employment trend is reflected across most of northwest Iowa. Dickinson County, home of the Iowa Great Lakes, saw an unemployment increase in October to 3.9 percent, but all the counties immediately surrounding Buena Vista report declines in joblessness back to the low levels seen before the pandemic.

Pocahontas County was the lowest of the end of October, at 1.8 percent, followed by Ida and O’Brien at 1.9. Cherokee and Sac counties at 2 percent. Calhoun was at 2.3 percent, Clay (Spencer) at 2.4 and Palo Alto at 2.5.

The entire region is well below the statewide unemployment rate of 3.6 percent - or about 58,500 people out of work. That’s still high compared to a year ago at this time, 2.8 percent, but vastly improved from the state’s peak of over 10 percent jobless last spring.

Urban areas tend to show higher unemployment rates than rural areas. In Woodbury County (Sioux City), some 1,600 people are jobless with 2.9 percent unemployment, Webster County (Fort Dodge) at 3 percent, Polk (Des Moines) at 3.6 percent.

Nationwide, the pandemic hit the job market even harder than Iowa experienced. In 2019, the jobless rate fell to its lowest level since the mid-1960s - 3.5 percent. It peaked in April at close to 15 percent, and has declined since to 6.9 percent by the end of October.

Not everyone suffered equally. While unemployment rates declined among all major worker groups in October, the rate was 6.7 percent for adult men, 6.5 percent for adult women, 13.9 percent for teenagers. While only 6 percent of white people were out of work, the rates rise to 7.6 percent for Asians, 8.8 percent for Hispanics, and 10.8 percent for blacks. In Iowa, new unemployment claims rose a whopping 21 percent during the week of November 14, while continuing claims were steady. The rate of new claims had generally fallen though October. Manufacturing and construction layoffs saw the most new claims, followed by health care workers, social workers, hotels and motel employees, food service workers, and government employees. On the upside, the state did report its first monthly gain in construction jobs since May. Retail stores added 1,600 jobs, food manufacturing and waste management also saw some job gains. Iowa has recovered about 129,000 jobs since the peak of COVID-19 layoffs. About 44 percent of Iowa claimants indicated that their job loss was not directly caused by COVID-19, according to Iowa Workforce Development. “We have to balance fighting the COVID-19 pandemic with a targeted approach that protects lives while also keeping our economy open and our kids safely in the classroom,” said Gov. Reynolds. “This good economic news is a reflection of Iowans’ resiliency, our ability to innovate, and work together to protect each other.” However, in-person services at IowaWORKS centers have been suspended due to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ recent COVID-19 emergency proclamation. Online and phone access continues.

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases ride a third wave nationwide and particularly across the midwest, Congress remained at an impasse on relief action as it headed into a week-long Thanksgiving vacation, nine months after the initial $2.2 trillion CARES Act. That has left states largely on their own to deal with the impact of rising COVID-19 cases and looming economic fallout.

Many Americans face a “benefits cliff” at the end of the year if Congress does not act.

While relief talks have not resumed since breaking down before election day, there are said to be discussions behind the scenes among leaders of both houses on the possibility of tacking coronavirus relief onto a must-pass spending bill. That bill needs to clear both chambers of Congress by Dec. 11 to avert a government shutdown. If that move is not successful, there will be few opportunities for relief to be brokered prior to the next administration taking office. The Senate is scheduled to adjourn Dec. 20 for the rest of the year. Without relief action, many who are struggling to find work would face reduction in unemployment benefits. Eviction protections, suspended student loan bills and repayment of emergency withdrawals from 401K accounts, among other safety nets, are set to expire in a few weeks.

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