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Idaho's unemployment rate falls to record low

Hoping for work: Job seekers lined up Thursday at a job fair in Los Angeles.
Kevork Djansezian
Getty Images
Hoping for work: Job seekers lined up Thursday at a job fair in Los Angeles.

The Idaho Department of Labor reported 2.4% unemployment in December, a historic low. Last month's rate fell two-tenths of a point to reach the record, besting a 2.5% rate in December of 2019.

Governor Brad Little jumped on the news with a statement touting his administration's conservative leadership, "Idaho's economy is booming and people are working at historic rates," he said. "Thank you to Idaho workers and employers big and small for our success!"

The state workforce, which is the total number of employed and working-aged residents looking for work, grew slightly last month, to more than 909,000. That's a minor increase from November, but 1% growth from December 2020. But that’s only 62.2% of the total number of Idahoans who are eligible to work, the percentage called the labor participation rate. In Idaho, the participation rate has declined from 63.2% over the last 12 months.

A declining participation rate can sometimes artificially lower the overall unemployment rate. That's because people who are not actively looking for work are not counted as unemployed. An increase in the number of baby boomer retirees is one reason participation rates have been on the decline in recent years. Workers dropping out of the workforce to stay home and care for children is another. Other workers may not wish to remain in jobs during the pandemic, which are at high risk for catching COVID-19.

Idaho’s Labor Department said the numbers are a sign of a persistently tight labor market.

Non-farm job growth here exceeded seasonal expectations in December, with 2,000 new jobs and a total of 790,500 non-farm positions statewide.

Data from the Conference Board, a non-profit business research group, show 2.3 open jobs for each of Idaho’s more than 22,000 currently unemployed and job-seeking residents.

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

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