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Economist highlights 'historic' decline in employment in Yellowstone County

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Posted at 6:03 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 20:03:18-05

In Yellowstone County, there was a historic decline in employment since the COVID-19 pandemic started last year.

On Tuesday morning, during day two of the University of Montana's economic outlook seminar, economist Pat Barkey said that in the first half of 2020 Yellowstone County lost jobs. In the second half of the year, the rebound was not enough to offset the effects from the beginning of the year.

"That netted out to be about a 3 percent decline in employment across the county, which was historic. But it is going to turn into something which is almost equally historic coming out as we expect to see some version of normality kicking in sometime around summer. We expect to see many of these jobs, which have been lost because of social distancing and other economic consequences of the pandemic...reverse themselves and then see some makeup growth this year," said Barkey.

Barkey said that although employment was down, wage and salary declines were not as harsh. Yellowstone County only only had a 1 percent drop in wages and salaries last year.

Steve Arveschoug of Big Sky Economic Development, another speaker, offered insight into the lessons learned after the pandemic hit in early 2020.

"The most important thing we can do for our small business community. A lesson that we learned- very important in Yellowstone County- was we need to get out of our car, put on a mask and walk in the front door of a small businesses," said Arveschoug.

He said that there are three lessons that were learned following the pandemic.

  • Support entrepreneurship
  • The value of our healthcare hub status
  • Execute plans to build the community

Arveschoug added that the local healthcare system is stained. He said job postings for registered nurses have increased 75 percent over 2019. He said there are currently 256 nursing job postings in Billings.

Arveschoug said that Montana is ranked seventh in the nation for having the oldest physician workforce.

Thirty-five percent of Yellowstone County doctors are over the age of 60.