Employers across the U.S. report difficulties recruiting workers. The problem is especially intense in Idaho, where unemployment rates are lower and employers are trying to add jobs faster.
Clearwater County’s unemployment rate fell to 3.6% in March, its lowest level ever, and significantly below the nation’s 6.0%. The March rate contrasts sharply with the average 12.6% in 1978 through 2019.
Clearwater County employers are competing for workers with Nez Perce County employers. In both counties, logging, construction and manufacturing are expanding at strong rates; tourism is almost back to its pre-Covid level; and most sectors are adding jobs.
Long-term shifts in the make-up of the labor force are the primary causes of labor shortages.
Fewer young people in the labor force: Over the last few decades, Clearwater’s youth population (age 15 to 24) has declined. Between 2000 and 2019, it fell 16% from 970 to 820. In addition, today’s teens are less likely to participate in the labor force—concentrating more on school and related activities. While 20 years ago, 41% held jobs. Today, 30% do.
The silver tsunami: For years, U.S. employers have been bracing for the current waves of retirements as the baby boom generation reaches its 60s. The make-up of Clearwater County’s population poses even more challenges. In 1999, 18% of the people who worked in Clearwater County were 55 years and older. By 2019, 33% were. In next few years, we can expect about 120 people to retire each year.
Net result—a smaller labor force: Over the last 20 years, Clearwater County’s labor force fell 18% from 3,690 to 3,020.
The pandemic caused additional problems.
Lots of early retirements in 2020: The pandemic led to an acceleration of retirements nationwide as more people chose to retire early. An April survey by the Census Bureau found about 16,590 Idahoans applied early for Social Security benefits because of the pandemic.
Fear of Covid: Some workers are still reluctant to return to or take jobs where they might be exposed to the coronavirus. This is especially true of workers who are older, or have pre-existing conditions, or who live with someone who is especially vulnerable.
Problems finding child or elder care: Another factor preventing some potential workers from participating in the labor force is the need to care for children or aging family members. It’s become harder to find child and elder care during the last year, forcing some women to temporarily withdraw from the labor force.