Analysis: Reopening No Cure for ID Families' Financial Struggles

Nov 17, 2020

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-thousand dollars a year and a third of households making up to 75-thousand 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," said Cerna Rios.

About a quarter of households making less than 35-thousand expect more losses through the end of the year, and half say they are having difficulty paying for basic expenses. Last week, Governor 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 said 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, as well as, of course, mitigate some sickness among our neighbors. So that's of great concern," said Cerna Rios.

Cerna Rios said federal aid is needed for a full economic recovery, but notes the state can play a role too. The 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," said Cerna Rios.

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