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Beltrami County unemployment rate highest since 2011

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BEMIDJI -- The unemployment numbers for individual Minnesota counties from April are available and the impacts from the coronavirus are apparent.

According to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, Beltrami County's unemployment rate for April was 9.1%, with 22,198 employed out of a 24,413 person labor force. In March, the rate was 4.6%, in February it was 5% and in January it was 5.4%.

Last year, the county's lowest unemployment rate was 2.9% in September, while the highest was 6% in January. April's rate is the highest since March 2011, when Beltrami County had an unemployment rate of 9.6%.

Before 2011, the rate also rose above 9% at the height of the Great Recession. In 2009, the county had an unemployment rate of 10.2% in February, 10.1% in March and 9.8% in April.

The April unemployment rates for surrounding counties include:

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  • Cass County, 13.2%.
  • Clearwater County, 13.7%.
  • Hubbard County, 10.4%.
  • Itasca County, 11.4%.
  • Koochiching County, 10.6%.
  • Marshall County, 9%.
  • Pennington County, 10.10%.
  • Roseau County, 8.4%.
  • Lake of the Woods County, 10.8%.

In nearby Mahnomen County, the unemployment rate was up to 17.4%. Across the state as a whole, the rate was 2.9% in March and 8.1% in April.
The unemployment claims began rising when Gov. Tim Walz made executive orders closing businesses to slow the spread of the coronavirus. This included retail stores, restaurants, bars and gyms.

Regionally, local organizations launched efforts to provide relief to businesses. Greater Bemidji Economic Development, for example, organized an emergency fund offering loans of up to $50,000. The organization invested $250,000 and received funding from other sources, such as another $250,000 from Beltrami County. The city of Bemidji, meanwhile, created its own program, offering $25,000 loans.

Greater Bemidji was also designated by DEED to administer nearly $1 million from a state loan program.

In the ensuing weeks, Greater Bemidji partnered with the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce, Visit Bemidji and the United Way of Bemidji Area to establish the Bemidji Area Gifts of Hope Fund. The program allowed residents to purchase $40 gift cards to local businesses at a cost of just $20, with the fund covering the rest. Additionally, the program provided gift cards to local restaurants directly to the United Way.

As these efforts were taking place, DEED reported that in Beltrami County, there were 5,209 unemployment applications since March 15. According to DEED, 21% of the applicants were part of the 2019 labor force.

"April had the first initial coronavirus claims to it, where the March numbers didn't," said Erik White, a labor market analyst for DEED. "Counties that rely on tourism, or a combination of tourism and food services, were impacted greatly with the number of (unemployment insurance) claims. Other counties in northwest Minnesota, though, closer to North Dakota with more agriculture-based industries, have seen fewer claims. It indicates that northwest Minnesota has some different economies within it, and that some areas will definitely be impacted more than others."

The economy has been starting to reopen in Minnesota and across the United States over the last month, though, and it has been noticeable in nationwide unemployment numbers. While the rate jumped from 4.4% in March, to 14.7% in April, it fell back to 13.3% in May.

In Minnesota, the first businesses able to reopen were retail stores and shops that maintain, repair and sell goods in mid-May. Then, early this month, Walz relaxed more rules, allowing restaurants and bars to reopen, but only with outdoor patio space.

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On June 10, bars, restaurants, fitness centers and theaters were also allowed to open indoor services, but at a limited capacity.

Related Topics: BELTRAMI COUNTY
Matthew Liedke is a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is originally from International Falls and now resides in Bemidji. He's a 2009 graduate of Rainy River Community College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead. At the Pioneer, he covers government, politics, health and economic development. He can be reached at (218) 333-9791 or by email at mliedke@bemidjipioneer.com.
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