Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor force critical to Idaho’s future

Contributions from nearly 1.6 million Idahoans are woven into the fabric of our state.

Roger B. Madsen is director of the Idaho Department of Labor and a former state senator from southwestern Ada County.


The economic turbulence of the last two years underscores the importance of a skilled labor force to Idaho's future.

The loss of 55,000 jobs, many in skilled trades, pulled $1.2 billion in wages out of the economy from 2007 to 2009—money that in better times would purchase homes, more durable goods and more services. Total Idaho wages in 2009 were lower than in 2006.

Thousands of workers found themselves without jobs for the first time. Their skills—invaluable to employers during the expansion several years ago—will be in high demand as our economy expands in the months to come.

Our country and state will recover. But it is the quality training, skills, abilities and years of experience of Idaho's people that will propel our state back to the economic forefront where it was in the mid-2000s.

Idaho's unemployment insurance program is playing a prominent role in ensuring that this pool of highly competent workers is available to new and existing businesses as they rebuild or expand in one of the best climates for entrepreneurial success in the country.

During the last two years, about $1.2 billion in unemployment benefits have been paid to Idaho workers who lost their jobs during the recession. Those dollars were spent on rent, mortgages, utility bills, food, school clothes and other necessities—spending that kept businesses and communities statewide from being hit harder by this economic downturn.

As important as making sure unemployment benefits get to those who deserve and need them, our agency is working with these people to help them find good-paying jobs instead of weekly benefit checks.

We are also helping businesses navigate the rough waters of the current economy.

Through employer seminars, networking groups, job fairs, community resource events and regular job-search workshops at 25 offices throughout the state, the Department of Labor continues to put skilled workers in touch with business owners needing their talents—working continuously to get Idaho's economy moving.

Idaho's businesses suffered significant layoffs during this recession, and the department has funneled millions of training dollars to the workers who lost their jobs. Many have used these funds to enhance their education and receive training in new skills to keep them in demand as the economy recovers. This includes special assistance to veterans, the disabled and others who face significant barriers to productive employment.

We are also helping thousands of Idahoans receive the Social Security disability benefits they deserve—$45 million per month. The Idaho Human Rights Commission, the Serve Idaho Commission and the Career Information System are protecting Idahoans from discrimination, helping them benefit their local communities through volunteer service and providing the career information they need to secure adequate employment.

I am grateful to Gov. Otter, the Legislature and Idaho businesses for the opportunity to serve this state. I am deeply proud of the commitment that our 750 Idaho Department of Labor employees make every day to help the workers, employers and citizens of Idaho. Our commitment will continue to be unwavering.

Contributions from nearly 1.6 million Idahoans are woven into the fabric of our state. They are responsible for making it the best place to live and work in America.

Idaho workers and their families—from clerks to factory workers to business owners—are Idaho's foundation and deserve the recognition we give them on this Labor Day.

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