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Montana's unemployment rate in April reaches 11.3%

| May 22, 2020 1:26 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate soared to 11.3% in April as the full effect of the coronavirus began to take its toll on the economy, marking the highest jobless rate in the state in more than four decades.

Total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural and self-employed workers, decreased by nearly 56,000 jobs in April, labor officials and the governor's office said Friday.

“While we are not immune to the significant economic challenges facing the nation, we are working every day to safely reopen and ensure Montana stays on a path to long-term economic recovery," Gov. Steve Bullock said in a statement. "There is still a lot of work to do, and we are dedicated to maintaining a healthy workforce, while continuing to provide immediate economic relief for Montana families and businesses who are hurting.”

Nearly 18,000 residents have returned to work since retailers were allowed to reopen in late April, state officials said.

Montana's previous high unemployment rate was 8.8% from January through May of 1983, during a recession. State unemployment records date back to 1976.

The unemployment rate on Montana's Indian reservations range from 10.3% on the Flathead reservation to 22.8% on the Rocky Boy's reservation. The national unemployment rate was 14.7% in April.

The governor has announced Montana will begin its second phase of economic reopening on June 1. That includes the possibility of more capacity in bars and restaurants and the lifting of a 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors.

On Friday, the state announced no new cases of COVID-19 from among more than 1,000 tests run on Thursday. The state has confirmed 479 cases of COVID-19 and 16 people have died. Montana has 22 confirmed active cases, including three people who are hospitalized.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

In other related developments

— Two Montana lawmakers are asking Bullock to provide liability protection for health care providers and small businesses to help them more confidently reopen without fear of being sued, as long as they follow sanitization and safety guidelines.

— Bullock ordered all flags displayed in Montana to be lowered to half-staff on Sunday to honor the victims of the coronavirus pandemic and their families. He ordered flags to be displayed at half-staff on Monday until noon for Memorial Day.

— Montana's June 2 primary is being conducted by mail after counties decided not to open polling places to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Those who plan to return their vote ballot by mail must allow enough time for it to be received by their county election office by June 2, keeping in mind that Montana only has mail sorting facilities in Billings and Great Falls. Ballots can also be returned to county election offices in person.