MARCH 18, 2010

Idaho’s February jobless rates comes within a tenth of record

   Idaho employers opened 2010 by hiring fewer workers than in any two-month period on record, sending February's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 9.5 percent and stopping just short of breaking the record 9.6 percent rate in 1982-83.

   The February rate jumped another two-tenths of a point to 9.5 percent after rising two-tenths to 9.3 percent in January from a revised December rate of 9.1 percent. That put Idaho within two-tenths of the national unemployment rate of 9.7 percent – the closest Idaho’s rate has been to the national mark since the 2001 recession.

   In Clearwater County, unemployment was at 15.3 percent, up from 14 percent at this time last year. Of the 3,408 people considered to be part of the civilian labor force, 522 were recorded as unemployed. In January those numbers were 3,361 and 514, respectively.

   Last February there were 3,485 people in Clearwater County’s civilian labor force, and 488 of those were unemployed.

   While the recession hit Idaho fast and hard during 2009, unemployment averaged 8 percent for the year, still below the record average of 9 percent in 1982. The average was also higher in 1983 at 8.8 percent and 1986 at 8.1 percent.

   But the number of jobless workers reached a record 71,600 in February, up 1,500 from January. There were just 20,300 Idahoans unemployed in February 2007, 10 months before the recession began. More than 52,000 idled workers collected over $15.7 million in unemployment this week, bringing total unemployment checks for the first 11 weeks of the year to over $181 million. Unemployment benefits totaled $643 million in 2009.

   The statewide labor force increased by 2,400 in February to 755,700, the eighth straight month that the number of people working or looking for work has increased in what could be a sign of rising public optimism about job prospects.

   The recession’s erosion of jobs in Idaho appears to have stalled, but there was little movement toward rebuilding the employment base that hit nearly 670,000 in mid-2007 before the economy slumped. The failure of the economy to generate new jobs while the number of people looking for work has increased is behind the rising unemployment rate.

   Nonfarm jobs at 592,000 in February were 2.2 percent below February 2009, less than half the jobs gap posted last August. But the gain in jobs from January to February was only 2,100, barely a third of the 5,900 average gain between January and February for the seven expansion years following the 2001 recession.

   Employers hired just 8,800 workers in January and only 8,300 more in February, the only back-to-back months that hiring has fallen below 9,000 since record-keeping began in late 1997. Up until this year, January and February new hires have averaged over 13,500.

   Construction jobs have fallen to the level of the late 1990s, continuing to drop in February faster than the average over the previous five years. A modest gain in high technology manufacturing was offset by higher-than-normal declines in food processing.

   Retail trade, trucking and financial and business services all declined at higher-than-normal rates between January and February although the losses were comparatively modest.

   Only hotels and restaurants showed modest job gains beyond the five-year average while public and private education regained the jobs that were essentially suspended during the Christmas holidays.