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Idaho initial and continuing unemployment claims drop again

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Sean Harris holds a sign asking for help in Sept. 4 in New Orleans. Harris had just completed training to be a hunted history tour guide in the French Quarter when the coronavirus pandemic hit. He has not been able to find a job since.

BOISE — The number of Idaho residents applying for unemployment dropped by 4% last week, officials said Thursday, as Idaho’s economy continues recovering during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Idaho Department of Labor said that applications for jobless benefits declined to 3,672 last week, while the four-week moving average of new claims held steady at about 3,700.

The agency also said that the overall number of people collecting unemployment dropped 12% to 11,500. That’s the 19th week of consecutive declines since the pandemic entered Idaho in March and Republican Gov. Brad Little issued a stay-at-home order as infections surged.

That order ended April 30, and the state at two-week intervals had been moving through Little’s reopening plan. Idaho has stalled in the fourth and final stage of the plan since June as infections or hospitalizations exceeded acceptable limits for reopening.

Idaho’s unemployment has dropped to 5% after reaching nearly 12% earlier this year, though about 45,000 workers remain unemployed. Under Little’s reopening plan, nearly all businesses can now reopen, excluding large venues where the virus could spread easily.

John Hopkins University reports that through Wednesday, there were more than 36,000 virus infections and 429 deaths in the state.

State officials report that the positivity rate of those being tested continues to drop, recently falling below 8%. The positivity rate is an indication of how widespread the virus is in the area. State officials would like to see the infection rate drop below 5%.

Little, who wears a face-covering in public and recommends others do so as well, hasn’t imposed a statewide mask mandate, leaving it up to local communities.

Seven of Idaho’s 44 counties, along with nine cities, have mask requirements, according to the Idaho Office of Emergency Management.

In the latest unemployment numbers, the Labor Department said manufacturing represented 16% of total claims, followed by healthcare, social assistance, administrative and support services, and retail at 11% each.

Total benefit payments attributed to workers who lost their jobs due to the virus stand at $861 million. The Labor Department said that the state’s unemployment insurance paid out about $195 million, with the rest covered by federal pandemic relief programs.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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