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Economist says impact of pandemic still felt in job numbers

AMES — Iowa’s unemployment rate has steadily dropped back down after hitting a peak when the coronavirus hit — but the pandemic has still left a hole in the state’s workforce.

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson says most of the drop is not from people getting back to work — it’s from people giving up their job search. “The most important factor driving that rate down is not more people working, it’s people leaving the labor force and not working or not looking for work,” Swenson says.

The unemployment rate in Iowa is 3.6%, about one percent above the level before the pandemic, and down from a high of 11%  in April. Swenson says the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data tell the story of what is happening.

“Even though the number of jobs has gone up the number of people that are participating actively in the economy, according to the BLS survey, has continued to go down,” according to Swenson. That survey shows the number of people counted as unemployed in Iowa has fallen by more than 130,000 since April, while the state has added only about 37,000 jobs.

Swenson says the leisure and hospitality industry leads the state for job losses over the past year followed by the education and health care sector, and government. He says nationally women have been most likely to leave the workforce during the pandemic. He believes the numbers are also likely to include many small business people forced into retirement.

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