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Mountain West Unemployment Continues To Drop, But Recovery Remains Slow In Areas

A hand holds onto a pink highlighter. The highlighter has circled job listing in a newspaper. A blurry coffee cup can be seen in the upper lefthand corner.
Unemployment is decreasing across the West, but some areas are rebounding slower than others.

Unemployment rates vary significantly across the Mountain West as states lift COVID-19 restrictions and people get vaccinated.

The latest data shows Utah and Idaho have the lowest unemployment rates – 2.7% and 3%, respectively – while Montana and Wyoming are the next lowest. All of those states are under the national average of 5.8%.

The governors of those four states have also optedout of the federal government's $300 weekly unemployment supplements, effective this month, citing labor shortages.

But experts say the kind of jobs available plays a larger role than the enhanced unemployment checks.

Jeff Waddoups is an economist with the University of Nevada Las Vegas. His state has one of the region’s highest unemployment rates at 7.8%.

“In Nevada, we are very, very heavily weighted toward tourism and hospitality,” he said.

Waddoups says those industries are just going to take a longer time to recover.

“We’re coming back, and it will take some time. But I think we’re on the road back,” he said.

There’s also variation within states, which would suggest state policies aren’t the only factors at play. In Idaho, for example, the highest county unemployment rate is more than double the state average.

New Mexico and Colorado also have employment rates above the national average, with 8% and 6.2% respectively.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Madelyn Beck was Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau.

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