Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Unemployment insurance benefits plunged in 2011

Department of Labor says it will be years to regain jobs


By EXPRESS STAFF

Unemployment insurance benefit payments plunged 33 percent from 2010 to 2011 as the Idaho economy finally leveled off following the most severe recession since World War II.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, benefits, both regular state and federally financed extended, totaled $418 million, compared to $624 million in 2010. Benefit payments peaked at $643 million in 2009 during the heart of the recession.

The total payout was just $104 million in 2006.

More than 82,000 Idaho workers received $222.6 million in regular state benefits during 2011, while more than 43,000 got $195.4 million in federally financed extended benefits. That compared to 96,000 receiving $292.3 million in regular benefits in 2010 while 54,000 got $331.7 million in federal extended benefits.

In 2009, nearly 112,000 got $403 million in regular benefits, and nearly 45,000 got $240.2 in extended benefits.

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The unprecedented payment of regular state benefits in 2009 bankrupted the state's Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, forcing Idaho to borrow $202 million from the federal government to continue paying benefits from mid-2009 to mid-2010. The state sold bonds last August and repaid the federal loan. The bonds will be paid off over the next four years. Some adjustments were also made by the Legislature to the management of the trust fund to ensure that it will not go broke in the future.

The decline in benefit payments in 2011 reflects the end of the economic slide in Idaho even though the state economy has only recently begun to see hints of growth. To some extent, the reduction in unemployment claims is the result of workers' exhausting their benefits without finding new jobs and others' failing to earn enough money at new jobs before being laid off to remain eligible for benefits.

Idaho's unemployment rate in November was 8.5 percent—about 65,000 workers without jobs. That was down from March, the last of four straight months when the rate stood at a record 9.7 percent—about 74,000 jobless workers. But the Conference Board, a Washington think tank, still estimates that there are three and a half unemployed workers for every advertised job opening in Idaho.

Department of Labor analysts estimate that it will be sometime in 2014 before Idaho regains the job levels it saw during the strong expansion before the recession.




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