July jobless spike cause for concern

Unemployment rates in the GLOW region counties are down from their April peak, but a July surge is cause for concern even as more businesses adapt and reopen as the area tries to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The numbers have raised concerns – which already existed – about the immediate economic future of the region.

The concern is well-founded.

Genesee County boasted a record low 3.1 percent unemployment rate in July 2019. One year later the rate was 9.6 percent. And while the June rate had improved from April’s peak of 14.4 percent, the unemployment rate was back up in July at 10.6 percent.

Similar data is seen in Livingston County, where the July unemployment rate increased to 10.4 percent from 9.4 percent in June. The rate had peaked in April – the height of the state’s coronavirus outbreak – at 14 percent.

Orleans County has a higher rate at 12.8 percent for July — a 2-point jump from 10.8 percent in June. The rate had peaked at 15.9 percent in April.

Wyoming County had the area’s lowest unemployment rate at 10.1 percent in July, which was an increase from 9 percent in June. In April, the rate was 15.3 percent.

It should be noted, that the state Department of Labor has historically used year-to-year comparisons when discussing unemployment data, which it says are more accurate than month-to-month comparisons, which have not been seasonally adjusted.

Still, the monthly data is valuable in helping to see the trend. And right now the upward trend is disconcerting at a time when we would expect it to be improving as businesses have been reopening.

Officials continue to discuss the impact of unemployment benefits and the weekly $600 bonus Congress awarded through the CARES Act when the coronavirus pandemic first arose. The enhancement ended in July.

Some business owners and largely Republican lawmakers argued the $600 bonus was so high, it served as a disincentive for employees to return to work.

Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle agreed the enhancement affected the area’s employment rate.

“I think that enhanced federal portion was an impact to folks, meaning for some people who were on unemployment, it was [financially] meaningful to the point that they maybe remained on unemployment,” Coyle said. “It’s not a character assertion. It was meaningful and important for folks.”

Coyle is interested in seeing how the data plays out in the next 30 days or so.

All sectors of the GLOW region were healthy in February, a month before the shutdown.

Livingston and Genesee counties, in particular, were enjoying strong economic figures in sales tax and consumer spending at the beginning of the year. A strong economy is often the sign of a strong workforce.

Today, the economy is at a low ebb.

Perhaps, a rebound of the tourism industry – fall foliage season is just a couple of weeks away – will help bring jobs back. And perhaps renewed confidence among consumers can bring about a healthy holiday shopping season – and with it a boost in employment.

The local economy was robust – you might say on fire – last winter, but the state-ordered COVID shutdowns diminished those flames to a flicker. Local officials need to call into question the chances of regaining lost jobs or, worst-case scenario, the possibility that these jobs will not return.

Getting answers will promote confidence in the area’s economy and, we hope, avert a gray autumn and a frigid winter.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1