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Unemployment In Idaho Continues To Fall, Labor Shortage Drives Wage Increases

A hand-written sign posted on a diner window that reads "Help Wanted."
IIP Photo Archive

New unemployment claims in Idaho fell for a seventh consecutive week, and continuing claims fell for the13th straight time for the week-ending May 29.

Idaho Department of Labor data show 15,359 Idahoans collected ongoing unemployment benefits last week. More than 8,600 of those claims were beneficiaries of federal pandemic unemployment programs. Idaho is ending those payments June 19.

Starting this week, job seekers who the Department of Labor sends to open positions on the state’s Idahoworks.gov job site have 48 hours to apply for those jobs or they risk losing benefits.

The website lists nearly 8,400 available jobs within 25 miles of Boise. The shortage of applicants is driving up wages.

“[Hiring] has just gotten more difficult,” said Rick Darmody, co-owner and operator of 25 Treasure Valley McDonald’s Restaurant locations. In an effort to attract more employees, his stores bumped starting wages to $10/hour late last year, then to $11/hour in April.

“That did increase the number of applications,” he said, “but it was short-lived.”

He added the pandemic recovery has amplified a labor shortage that was already felt prior to March 2020.

Following a market analysis, Darmody’s stores this week increased starting pay again, to $13/hour. Paid time-off, a benefit previously only for management, has been extended to all employees, too. That’s helpful to get people in the door, and the change also meant better pay for existing workers, too.

“We adjusted rates for all of our employees through all of our positions,” Darmody said. “[We] made sure that we tried to reward everybody.”

The wage increase and a June 2 hiring event led to more new applications than usual, Darmody said, though he did not know exact numbers. In a press announcement, the company stated it hoped to fill 500 positions across its locations this summer.

He said the impact of those wage increases on company profits is still being analyzed, but the alternative at some stores was not being able to open for business.

While food service workers remain the fifth-largest occupation group filing new initial unemployment claims last week, they make up only 8.4% of the 1,655 total new claims.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.