Idaho unemployment benefit filings reach record high due to COVID-19 outbreak

Posted at 2:25 PM, Apr 02, 2020

BOISE, Idaho — Nearly 33,000 Idaho residents filed for unemployment benefits last week as the Idaho economy continues shedding jobs at a record rate because of the coronavirus, state officials said Thursday.

The Idaho Department of Labor reported that the number of claims filed between March 22 and Saturday was a 143% increase over the 13,500 filed the previous week which, at the time, had been the largest the agency had ever recorded.

“This is a lot different than anything we’ve ever seen before, certainly more dramatic,” said Georgia Smith, an agency spokeswoman who has watched the state’s unemployment numbers since the mid-1980s.

The unemployment numbers are a stark contrast compared with the first two-and-a-half months of the year, when unemployment filings averaged 146 a day and the unemployment rate hovered around 3 percent. The agency didn’t include an unemployment rate in its latest numbers because numbers are changing so quickly.

Republican Gov. Brad Little issued an emergency declaration on March 13 because of the virus, and followed that up on March 25 with a statewide stay-at-home order.

The agency said the total number of people filing claims between March 15 and Saturday is more than 46,500. Workers of all age groups are being affected, but people under age 25 represent a disproportionate share of the total.

The agency said its working with the federal government to put in place provisions of the $2.2 trillion rescue package approved by Congress last week that should help self-employed or gig-economy workers.

“It will take us time to implement some of these new programs,” Smith said.

Phone lines have been jammed at the agency. Smith encouraged people to apply online or seek answers on that agency’s section for frequently-asked questions.

The agency said the hardest hit sectors are accommodations and food services, health care and social assistance, and retail trade, comprising about 55 percent of the total. Some health care workers are in areas that include elective surgeries, which have been cut back as “not essential.”

Industries posting the highest percentage of new claims included mining at 767 percent, manufacturing at 306 percent and construction at 256 percent.

The agency said that about one-third of those filing claims last week live in highly-populated southwestern Idaho that includes Ada, Canyon, Gem, Boise and Owyhee counties. Some of those residents travel to Boise and other cities for work.

Smith said that 55 percent of businesses in Idaho are considered essential under Little’s stay-at-home order, and many of those are hiring, including grocery stores and drug stores.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms lasting two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

(by Keith Ridler, Associated Press)