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State numbers confirm staggering job losses


April 24, 2020

Reflecting what all Minnesotans are seeing in their local economies during the COVID-19 “stay at home” orders, the jobless numbers that are coming out are startling and historic. And they are rising by the scores daily in counties across the state.

Carlton County had 3,171 people file for unemployment insurance March 16 through April 20. That is 17.4 percent of the available workforce. Nearby counties in the northeastern had similar numbers:

• St. Louis: 18.6 percent.

• Pine: 19.2 percent.

• Lake: 20.2 percent.

• Aitkin: 17 percent.

The numbers come from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which is the state's principal economic development agency. DEED’S northeastern statistical market includes Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Itasca, Koochiching, Lake, and St. Louis counties. The seven counties have seen more than 30,000 people apply for jobless benefits, about 18 percent of the workforce. In 2019, there were just more than 1,000 claims made the entire year.

DEED reports that because of a lag time between data collection and reporting, and because monthly employment data reflects payroll numbers through mid-month, it won’t see the full picture of COVID-19 impacts until the April data release on May 21.

Its unemployment insurance report showed 519,484 new jobless applications and reactivated accounts statewide from March 16 through April 20. In all of 2019, there were just 14,153 claims.

Rita Beatty, a spokeswoman for DEED, said the state numbers are far exceeding in a few weeks the yearly records from the hard-hitting recession of a decade ago.

“We saw 453,741 applications in all of 2009, during the height of the Great Recession,” she said. “In March 2020, there were 286,817 applications. The next highest single month for applications was in December 2008, when we saw 59,820 applications.”

Sappi mill idles

Although the Sappi mill in Cloquet is considered an essential business, the ability to remain open hasn’t been enough to protect it from the effect of a dramatically slowed economy.

Sappi spokesperson Olga Karagiannis said, because of market conditions, the Cloquet Mill is one of three in North America that is “taking periodic market curtailment on some of its operations … to balance our product supply with demand.”

“As part of this process, employees associated with the curtailed machines are being temporarily laid off consistent with the process defined in their collective bargaining agreements,” she said, adding that the temporary layoffs will be on a rotational basis, impacting employees for between one and two weeks at a time.

While workers are laid off, Sappi is funding the employee portion of their medical insurance premium for impacted employees. Laid-off employees are also eligible for the enhanced unemployment insurance available under the federal CARES Act, Karagiannis said.

Sappi has also recently announced that members of senior leadership will be taking a pay cut during the crisis.


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