Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Idaho jobless rate drops to 6.8 percent

Blaine County unemployment down to 6.3 percent


Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in November dropped below 7 percent for the first time in three and a half years as more than a thousand idled workers found new jobs.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, 36 of the 44 counties posted declines in their jobless rates from October and all but Custer County had rates lower than a year ago.

In Blaine County, the unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, with an estimated 452 unemployed people in the county’s workforce of 12,206.

The two-tenths of a percentage point decline statewide to 6.8 percent marked the sixth time in 13 months that 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 more than 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 more than 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 that 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 that 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.

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