Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Idaho unemployment rises to a high

Express Staff Writer

Though the Idaho Department of Labor won't be releasing January's unemployment rate for weeks, an economic consultant to Zions Bank estimates it at 9.2 percent—the highest since late 1982 and early 1983 when it reached 9.4 percent.

The state's unemployment rate has consistently increased by about 0.2 percent every month since June 2007, when it was 2.9 percent. It had held steady at 2.8 percent during the seven months prior to June 2007.

Even worse, the state is losing workers who have either left the state or just stopped looking for jobs, meaning Idaho's "workforce" is shrinking. This changes the unemployment rate in a negatively misleading way.

The workforce is measured as the total number of people either with a job or actively looking for one. Unemployment is the percentage of that workforce actively looking for a job. But when people become so discouraged that they stop looking for a job, they are no longer included in the government's workforce total even though they're still unemployed. This shrinking of the workforce increases the percentage of unemployed workers and worsens the unemployment rate even if the number of unemployed workers remains the same.

From December 2008 to December 2009, the total workforce had decreased by 5,400 people, from 759,249 a year ago to 753,842 in December. It remains to be seen whether the labor department's January figures show more workers dropping out of the Idaho job market.

It's easy to see why workers are getting discouraged. Jeff Thredgold of Thredgold Economic Associates—Zions' consultant—estimates that Idaho lost 19,800 jobs during the past 12 months.

The labor department said it expects the state's unemployment rate to slightly rise in 2010, leveling off in the 8 to 9 percent range in the second half of the year.

While the state hasn't yet reported January's unemployment rate, the U.S. Department of Labor said the national rate fell to 9.7 percent last month from 10 percent in December.

The last time America's unemployment stood at 9.7 percent was in August. Still, the rate is a 26 percent increase from January 2009, when it was 7.7 percent. But 7.7 percent may not be the bar to shoot for. The country's 10-year average for January is much lower at about 5.2 percent unemployment.

Trevon Milliard:

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