Idaho’s March Jobless Rate Flat as Labor Force Keeps Falling


By Paul Johnson

Boise, Idaho ( KMVT-TV / KTWT-TV ) - There’s good news from the State’s Department of Labor today. Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady in March at 6.2 percent, the result of the continuing decline in the labor force and caution on the part of the state’s employers.

According to the labor department, another 1,400 people left Idaho’s labor force in March, the largest one-month exodus since the heart of the recession three years ago and the third straight monthly decline. Over 2,600 people have dropped out of Idaho’s labor force since December 2012, leaving it at just over 772,000 and erasing any gains made since January 2012 when the economy was struggling to begin its recovery.

Idaho employers hired 13,000 workers in March for both new and replacement jobs - about 500 fewer than they hired in March 2012 and well below prerecession hiring levels. While March’s job creation was about twice the average during the past five years, it was below normal economic times, much less a robust recovery.

As a result, total employment fell for the second month in a row, dropping more than 600 to 724,500.

Government jobs continued contracting, albeit modestly during March. Government has been shedding jobs in the recession’s aftermath as tax revenues tighten. Modest job growth beyond normal in the much-smaller manufacturing sector partially offset the reluctance of private sector employers to hire on the service side of the economy, which has been producing three of every four new jobs since the recovery began.

The activity in goods production was a welcome sign for Idaho since those jobs average $10,000 a year more in pay than service sector jobs. Overall, the first third of 2013 was stronger than 2012. About 8,000 more people were working in March than in March 2012, and the number of unemployed at 47,500 was 9,500 lower.

Nationally, unemployment dropped another tenth of a point in March to 7.6 percent while Idaho’s rate, unchanged from February, remained below the national rate for the 138th month – 11½ years. Last March, Idaho’s unemployment rate was 7.4 percent after peaking at 8.8 percent in late 2010.

Unemployment benefits were also falling with the jobless rate. Regular unemployment insurance benefits totaling $15.8 million were paid to an average of 16,000 idled workers in March, down 21 percent from March 2012’s $19.9 million paid to over 20,000 people. Another 5,500 workers a week received a total of nearly $5.4 million during the month in federal extended benefits, about half the number and payout of a year earlier. The extended benefit program formally ends in December, and federal budget cutting has curtailed those benefits this spring.

The combination of employed workers and those actively seeking work falling to just 772,000 underscored analyst concerns about the state’s ability to sustain a strong recovery. While Idaho’s economy has been generating jobs faster than the national economy, its labor force remains at a 2011 level when job creation was minimal.

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