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Idaho unemployment below seven percent

December 21, 2012
Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in November dropped below seven percent for the first time in three and a half years as more than a thousand idled workers found new jobs. Thirty-six of the 44 counties posted declines in their jobless rates from October and all but Custer County had rates lower than a year ago.

The two-tenths of a percentage point decline statewide to 6.8 percent marked the sixth time in 13 months the jobless rate has fallen by more than a single tenth. The last time the rate was lower was March 2009. The post-recession high was 8.9 percent in July 2011.

Total employment was up 1,500 from October to over 722,200, the highest total since mid-2008 and 14,000 ahead of a year ago, as employers maintained payrolls at a stronger pace than normal for November. The number of workers without jobs fell 1,800 to below 52,400, down over 13,000 from a year ago.

But more than 300 workers dropped out of the labor force in November. It was the sixth straight month the state’s workforce has declined, essentially returning to the level it was in November 2011.

Since spring Idaho has lost almost 7,500 workers, the largest continuous erosion of the labor force since 9,100 dropped out over eight months at the end of 2008 and the start of 2009. The only other contraction worse than the current one was 8,700 lost over nine months during 1980.

Idaho’s two-tenths of a point decline in the unemployment rate matched the national rate decline to 7.7 percent in November. Idaho’s rate has been below the national rate since September 2001.

Regular unemployment insurance benefit payments totaled $13.4 million in November paid to an average of 10,800 idled workers a week. That was down 19 percent from November 2011, and the number of claimants had fallen over 22 percent. In addition $8.3 million in federal extended benefits was paid to an average of 6,800 workers a week, about half the federal payments made a year earlier. The number of people claiming claimants extended benefits was down 42 percent.

Even the gradual improvement in the economy has been important for the long-term unemployed, who will lose their unemployment benefits at the end of December when the federal benefit extensions are terminated. Since that program began in mid-2007, it has pumped nearly $800 million into the Idaho economy through assistance to over 150,000 Idaho workers and their families.

Employers are hiring again, but the pace is slow. The 14,000 new hires Idaho businesses reported in November were almost exclusively for filling vacancies created by firings, retirements or other reasons. At their current pace, employers will hire just over 180,000 workers this year, essentially matching their hires during 2008, the first year of the recession.

In its November report, the Washington, D.C., based Conference Board, a business think tank, estimated there were just over two jobless workers for every job posting in Idaho. While still extremely competitive, the employment picture has significantly improved from late 2009 when nearly five unemployed workers vied for every job posting.

Employers in nearly every sector – including construction – kept their payrolls at or above the average levels for the last five years, and overall nonfarm jobs remained 1.2 percent ahead of 2011 levels. The exceptions are information, accommodations and business support services. Government administration at all levels – local, state and federal – reported fractional declines in their payrolls during the month.

Only five rural counties – all in northern and north central Idaho – posted double-digit jobless rates in November, half the number from October. Resource-reliant Adams County remained the county with the highest rate at 16.1 percent, down more than two percentage points from October.

Boundary County was one of those, posting a 10.1 percent unemployment rate, down from 12.4-percent posted in November, 2011.

Fourteen counties had rates below 6 percent, up from 13 in October and just six in November 2011. Oneida County posted the lowest rate at 3.8 percent – the first time a county has been under 4 percent since Owyhee in June 2009.

All five metropolitan areas had rates lower than both October and a year ago.
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