Missouri’s unemployment rate dropped by 2 percentage points in June, a statistic that Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday demonstrates the state’s economy is recovering.
At the same time, Missouri has recorded over 30,000 cases of COVID-19.
After weeks of lockdown put thousands of Missourians out of work, unemployment climbed to a staggering 10.2% in April and 10.1% in May. The number now sits at 7.9%, according to the Department of Economic Development.
Initial unemployment claims in Missouri fell to 16,781 last week, the lowest since March 21, according to the Department of Labor. The decreasing numbers come a week after work search requirements were reinstated for unemployment benefits.
“We are very encouraged by these numbers,” Parson said, “and we will continue to do everything we can to rebuild our economy and help Missouri families, businesses and communities recover from this crisis.”
The Department of Economic Development launched a handful of funding programs intended to support economic recovery in recent weeks, funded by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. This includes $20 million for rural broadband investment, a $30 million grant program for small businesses and a $20 million grant program to increase the production of personal protective equipment for Missouri businesses to use.
In addition, Parson announced another grant program Thursday of up to $15 million for Missouri’s tourism industry, which has also suffered during the coronavirus pandemic as people travel less.
“When the COVID-19 health emergency hit Missouri, the tourism and hospitality industry nearly shut down completely,” Economic Development Director Rob Dixon said. “This funding will help our tourism industry make our state’s many attractions and activities safer, and reinforce messaging to encourage visitors to come to Missouri and safely enjoy all there is to see and do here.”
The money will be granted to organizations that promote Missouri’s tourism attractions and can be used for payroll relief, reimbursement for safety equipment and marketing campaigns that focus on safe travel.
As state officials continue to balance economic recovery with public health, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the state reached 30,422 Thursday, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The state also reported 665 total cases in Boone County.
Boone County and Missouri officials have been reporting different numbers of cases. The city of Columbia reported 821 positive cases in Boone County with 314 active as of Thursday. That would bring the state total to 30,578.
While Thursday’s statewide daily increase of 708 positive cases is not as stark as recent days, Parson continues to face criticism regarding his handling of the pandemic.
“If Governor Parson was really serious about helping Missouri’s tourism industry, he would do much, much more to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Missouri Democratic Party spokesperson Kevin Donohoe said in a statement. “On a day when parts of the state hit a record number of COVID-19 deaths, the Parson administration came across as out-of-touch and oblivious to the public health crisis devastating Missouri’s communities.”
The grant program for Missouri’s tourism industry is designed to help address safety concerns for travelers, Stephen Foutes, director of the Missouri Division of Tourism, said. This could include temperature screenings at events, for example.
Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said outdoor tourism is a great way to promote the industry and that he feels comfortable telling people to travel as long as people wash their hands, practice social distancing and wear masks when they can’t.