Idaho’s labor force shrank for the second straight month in February, sending the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down a tenth of a percentage point to 6.2 percent, the lowest unemployment rate since December 2008.
The Idaho Department of Labor reported that in Blaine County, about 756 people in the work force of 12,080 were unemployed in February, putting the county’s unemployment rate at 6.3 percent. That figure is down from 7.3 percent in February 2012.
While employers in most private sector industries hired more workers than usual for February, total employment declined by 400 but still remained above 725,000—the level it was at in spring 2008 as the recession was just beginning.
Department of Labor analysts suspect that more workers may be abandoning self-employment for more traditional jobs covered by the state’s unemployment insurance system, or more may be taking on second jobs. Idaho traditionally has one of the highest percentages of workers holding more than one job, ranking 10th among the states in 2011 at 7.4 percent.
Nonfarm jobs—those covered by the unemployment insurance system—posted stronger growth in both 2011 and 2012 than originally estimated, though only one of every four new jobs last year were in typically higher-paying goods production.
Employers hired nearly 14,000 workers in February, exceeding their hiring level in February 2008, and about half were for new jobs.
February’s unemployment rate was 1.3 percentage points lower than that of February 2012, and the number of Idahoans without jobs was 9,400 fewer at just over 48,000. It has been 11 years and five months since Idaho’s rate was higher than the national rate, which dropped two-tenths of a point in February to 7.7 percent.
The decline to less than 774,000 in the statewide workforce—the combination of employed workers and those actively looking for jobs—has become a concern since Idaho appears to be generating jobs faster than the national economy. Instead of expanding as those new job opportunities emerge, the labor force has slipped back to the level of February 2012, wiping out modest gains made during the previous year and reinforcing concerns about whether the state will have enough manpower to sustain a strong economic recovery.