Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell for the second straight month in May, but employers generally hired at less than the seasonal norm.
According to the Idaho Department of Labor, the unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a point to 9.4 percent in May. The unemployment rate in Blaine County also dropped two-tenths of a point, from 9.7 percent in April to 9.5 percent in May. The county has an official labor force of 12,895 people.
The number of jobs across the state continued to track 2010 levels. Wages have been rising modestly in recent months due to employers' restoring hours cut during the recession or giving raises to workers who took on more responsibilities as payrolls shrank, the department reported.
Job creation in January, February, March and April was weaker than initially estimated, and that weakness continued into May. Another 7,900 jobs were generated between April and May, compared to 9,300 between April and May 2010.
Total nonfarm jobs fell 1,800 below the level of May 2010 after nearly matching the year-earlier total in April.
"While the economy appears to no longer be losing significant numbers of jobs, significant increases have yet to occur," the department stated in a news release.
Manufacturers hired a few dozen more workers than normal for May, offering the brightest spot in Idaho's jobs picture. But manufacturing payrolls across the state still totaled less than 54,000 for the sixth straight month, stuck at 1991 levels.
Construction, which bore the brunt of the recession after the housing bubble burst, also generated jobs a little faster than the five-year average, but total construction employment at under 29,000 was still at 1994 levels, the department reported.
"Retailers added staff at the expected rate in May, maintaining a stability that suggests consumers are not pulling back," the department stated. "Employment agencies are also adding more jobs than the five-year average would expect, continuing a year-long recovery that suggests employers are taking advantage of growth opportunities but are not ready to expand their own payrolls."
Business services, often an early sign of where the economy is headed, held its own in May at just over 11,000 jobs. Still, this subsector has been wedged between 11,000 and 12,000 jobs for more than three years.
Even health care, which grew steadily through the recession and since, generated new jobs at only half the pace of the previous five years.
The number of Idaho workers without jobs in May fell below 72,000 for the first time in nine months, as Idaho's unemployment rate went the opposite direction of the national rate, which rose two-tenths to 9.4 percent. Three months earlier, Idaho's rate was at a record 9.7 percent and the national rate was down to 8.8 percent. Idaho's rate a year ago was 9.2 percent while the national rate was 9.6 percent.
The Conference Board, a business think tank, found there were still nearly four unemployed workers for every job opening in Idaho during May. More than 10,000 people have exhausted all their unemployment benefits without finding work.