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No. 10 story of 2020: After spike in spring, Sioux City metro unemployment declines
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No. 10 story of 2020: After spike in spring, Sioux City metro unemployment declines

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Davidson construction silhouette (copy)

Construction workers are shown on a lift working behind the Davidson Building in downtown Sioux City in October.  The unemployment rate in metro Sioux City fell to 2.8 percent in October, tied with Iowa City for the lowest unemployment rate among Iowa's largest cities. The robust local economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is The Journal's No. 10 story of 2020.

Editor's note: The Journal today begins its countdown of the Top 10 Stories of 2020 in Siouxland, as chosen by Journal staff. The No. 1 story will be revealed on Dec. 27, and the Journal's annual Newsmaker of the Year will be named on Jan. 3.

SIOUX CITY -- In each of the 36 months through March 2020, the unemployment rate in the Sioux City metro had never gone higher than 3.7 percent, and was occasionally as low as 2.1 percent. 

It was better than full employment. Business leaders frequently discussed the fact that there weren't enough workers. 

Then, in April, as COVID-19 sank its claws into Iowa and unprecedented lockdowns were implemented nationwide, the metro's unemployment rate soared to 9.5 percent, a local level not seen in state records dating back to 1990. 

The Sioux City metropolitan statistical area -- defined as Woodbury and Plymouth counties, plus Dakota and Dixon counties in Nebraska and Union County in South Dakota -- lost around 7,700 jobs. Among the hardest-hit were workers in the leisure and hospitality industries, which shed around 3,500 positions, or 44.9 percent of total employment in the sector. 

But the workforce bounced back quickly.

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By May, the metro's unemployment rate had slid to 8.7 percent. In June it was down to 7.4 percent. By July it was 6 percent, and it was down to 5.4 percent in August. In September it slid further to 3.9 percent.

For October, the local rate fell to 2.8 percent, tied with Iowa City for the lowest unemployment rate among Iowa's largest cities, according to Iowa Workforce. Sioux City reportedly added 800 non-farm jobs for the month, as total employment reached pre-coronavirus levels. 

Sioux City fared much better than many other places in the U.S. during the year. The national unemployment rate was far higher in April, at 14.7 percent. Millions of workers filed for unemployment benefits during a stretch of several weeks. As of November the U.S. unemployment was still as high as 6.7 percent. 

Statewide, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota all fared better than the national average. Nebraska's unemployment rate of 3 percent was the lowest in the nation in October, while Iowa and South Dakota tied for third-lowest unemployment rate at 3.6 percent each. 

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A COVID risk dial on the Northeast Nebraska Health Department's website still registers in the orange, or high-risk, zone, but it's dropped from red (severe risk). Woodbury County on Wednesday reported a fifth straight day of 60 or fewer new cases.

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