Missouri’s jobless rate down slightly in May but still high

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Unemployment in Missouri dropped slightly last month but was still nearly three times what it was before the coronavirus arrived, according to data released Thursday by the state economic development department.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.1 percent in May, which was down from 10.2 percent in April and was lower than the national rate for May of 13.3 percent.

The Department of Economic Development said Thursday that it had adjusted the previously reported seasonally adjusted jobless rate for April to 10.2 percent from 9.7 percent because of federal changes used to calculate that rate.

The last time Missouri’s unemployment rate came close to these levels was during the Great Recession, when it peaked at 9.9 percent.

Unemployment was at 3.5 percent in February when the virus arrived. Joblessness increased to 4.4 percent in March and shot up to 10.2 percent in April.

Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, has been eager for a return to normal in the hope that it will help the economy recover. He allowed a statewide social distancing order to expire Monday, meaning there are no statewide restrictions on businesses anymore, though Parson and the state health director said people should continue to practice social distancing.

“We are already making progress, and I strongly believe that our economy will bounce back quicker and stronger than before,” Parson said Thursday. “But I will continue to remind everyone that COVID-19 is still out there. We have to be able to move forward and get the economy back and running, while still being proactive and protecting public health.”

June’s jobless numbers could reflect a spike in employment because of the eased restrictions, but it’s unclear if and when business will return to pre-pandemic staffing levels because the virus is still spreading in the state and elsewhere.

Parson’s administration announced this week that it was ending changes that were meant to help people access unemployment benefits and food stamps more easily during the pandemic. Workers will need to comply with job search requirements to continue getting unemployment benefits after July 4.

The state also will start requiring families to verify that they’re still eligible to get food stamps beginning July 1. The state had waived those requirements in the face of widespread joblessness because of the virus.

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