Unemployment in This City is Only 3.6%

As national unemployment hit 11.1% in June, recessionary figures continued from the start of the pandemic. Very few cities had unemployment under 8%. One city, however, posted a figure of 3.6% in June. It was Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Idaho Falls is among the smallest metropolitan statistical areas in America, with a population of just 130,000. It is not affluent. The median household income for the area is just under $50,000, well below the national average of $60,000. The poverty rate is 15.6%, about the same as the national average.

Idaho Falls is dominated by companies that should remain healthy. Idaho National Laboratory produces nuclear energy, which is still part of the energy supply in the area. Melaleuca sells cleaning products and vitamins. Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center is the major hospital in the area. COVID-19 cases in the area are close to zero, so the staff will not be burdened with long and expensive treatment. WinCo Foods is the local grocery business.

The city’s employment success begs the question of whether a small city that is relatively isolated and has several small businesses can ride out a recession that has badly damaged almost every other part of the country. It is certainly true of most cities in Montana and North Dakota. One or two healthy relatively stable employers not undermined by the recession have protected similar cities from the worst of the downturn. If this theory is true, these areas may escape the recession completely.