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Charles Gascon of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis notes the unemployment rate during the COVID-19 pandemic rivals those in the Great Depression era.
SBJ photo by Mike Cullinan
Charles Gascon of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis notes the unemployment rate during the COVID-19 pandemic rivals those in the Great Depression era.

Economist: Unemployment rates to stay elevated through 2021

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While unemployment rates have shown a marked turnaround from record-high levels in April, economic signs are not pointing to a quick end to the recession triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a St. Louis Federal Reserve official.

Charles Gascon, a regional economist and senior coordinator at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said Aug. 19 that July’s national unemployment rate of 10.2% – an improvement of 4 percentage points from April – is still above the Great Recession high of 10% reached in October 2009. The 14.7% April rate was the highest since the Great Depression, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Gascon was the guest speaker for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual Economic Outlook event, which was livestreamed this year for coronavirus safety precautions.

“What makes this recession very different is why people are unemployed,” he said. “It’s really these workers that are temporarily laid off that drove the unemployment rate to these record numbers.”

Job growth has been on a better recovery track locally and statewide than nationally, Gascon said. In June, Springfield’s unemployment rate was 7.2%, while Missouri came in at 7.9%. Both are well below the national average and should remain that way when state and local numbers for July are reported near month’s end, he said.

“In a place like Missouri, where it’s manufacturing heavy, … job growth has been able to pick up a little bit stronger,” he said, pointing to Nevada and Hawaii as tourism-driven states that will continue to struggle. “While things have come back, there’s still a really long way to go to get back to some sense of a normal-level economy.”

No sector has been spared job losses, but Gascon said the retail and tourism sectors are going to take “a very long time” to recover.

Data analysts at IHS Markit forecast an 11.4% national unemployment rate at year’s end and only dipping to 9.4% at the end of 2021. Missouri’s jobless rate is forecasted at 6.6% to finish 2020 and 5.3% at the end of next year.

Job market recovery should continue in the coming months as more employees temporarily laid off return to the workforce, Gascon said.

Check out the full story in Springfield Business Journal’s Aug. 24 print edition.

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