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Analysis: Reopening No Cure for ID Families' Financial Struggles

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About a quarter of Idaho households making less than $35,000 expect more income loss through the end of the year. (zimmytws/Adobe Stock)
About a quarter of Idaho households making less than $35,000 expect more income loss through the end of the year. (zimmytws/Adobe Stock)
November 16, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- Despite a largely reopened state, Idaho families are struggling and expect the financial pain will continue.

Census survey data from September and October finds nearly half of Idaho households with incomes of less than $35,000 a year and a third of households making up to $75,000 have experienced some loss of income due to the pandemic.

Alejandra Cerna Rios is director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, which analyzed the data.

"What the takeaway from this is that it's more modest-earning households that are really bearing the brunt of the pandemic and the recession hardship," Cerna Rios observed.

About a quarter of households making less than $35,000 expect more losses through the end of the year, and half say they are having difficulty paying for basic expenses.

Last week, Gov. Brad Little moved the state back to Stage Two and mobilized the Idaho National Guard to assist health care workers dealing with surging COVID-19 cases.

Cerna Rios said the loss of income is not just because of unemployment.

Lowered demand, especially in sectors like hospitality, has led to cuts in hours for folks who already live on modest means.

She warned the increasing number of coronavirus infections could slow spending even more.

"From that point of view, yes, we should be concerned about rising caseloads because it affects our ability to recover from this recession," Cerna Rios contended, "As well as, of course, mitigate some sickness among our neighbors. So that's of great concern."

Cerna Rios stated federal aid is needed for a full economic recovery, but noted the state can play a role too.

Census data finds one-third of Idaho households have cancelled their post-secondary plans. Because of the big boost in earnings that completing college gives workers, Cerna Rios said this a troubling sign.

"What state policymakers can look at is what are the resources and tools available to them to make sure that we avoid losing ground with both public education and higher education," Cerna Rios urged.

Cerna Rios added alleviating the long-term effects of the recession might require lawmakers to tap into the state's rainy day fund, noting it is definitely raining for many Idaho families right now.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID