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Labor shortages are still impacting Idaho industries. This is why.

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Posted at 1:36 PM, Sep 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-13 15:40:10-04

The labor shortage continues to impact industries here in Idaho and across the country.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, there are a few reasons we're dealing with this shortage. Firstly, unemployment is low: it's still sitting at just 3 percent. That means Idaho falls into what's known as the "fully employed" range.

"Economists have set a range of where the unemployment rate would be if the economy was going well enough that anyone who wants a job has a job," explained Craig Shaul, a Regional Economist with the Idaho Department of Labor.

The fully employed range is considered between 4 and 5 percent, which means Idaho's 3 percent unemployment rate is actually below that--and because Idaho added jobs faster than any other state over the past year, that's created a tight labor market.

"Idaho and Utah were the only two states whose nonfarm payroll employment rose between March 2020 and March 2021," a report from the department of labor reads. "The severe recession that began in December 2007 flipped the job market back to an employers’ market for a few years. But as Idaho’s economy has grown at an exceptional pace since 2012, the advantage has returned to job seekers."

"If you employed every single person that's unemployed in Idaho, looking for work right now including those getting claims you would still have open positions. There are just more positions that employers are trying to fill than we have workers or unemployed people," Shaul said.

Many businesses are offering pay bumps and boosting benefits in order to stay competitive in a tight job market.

For Ada County, they're working to offer a 15 dollar minimum wage for all county positions, especially for in-demand blue-collar jobs.

"Now there's a lot of competition and the demand is far exceeding the supply, so the wages and costs of these blue-collar jobs are starting to go up," explained Ada County Commissioner Ryan Davidson.

According to data from the Idaho Department of Labor, the businesses finding it hardest to recruit workers are construction firms, home care agencies, employers of certified nurse aides, restaurants, motels, trucking, and package delivery companies.

The Ada County Landfill says they've also struggled to fill open positions. Davidson says as the county grows, they grow too--so landfill workers are crucial.

"I guess you could say it's part of our growing pains as we go through this unprecedented phase of growth. One of the consequences is we don't have enough employees to fill a lot of jobs," Davidson said. "It's putting a strain on the county, it's putting a strain on everybody so we have to be able to compete. If you want the quality of life in Ada County as you're used to, we have to fill these positions. We need to put a priority on making sure our employees stay here, they work their entire career here, and then they can retire comfortably."

Local school districts are also feeling the impacts of the labor crunch. Many local districts were scrambling to hire bus drivers before school even started. Districts across the state are also still hiring for other positions too--like custodial and nutrition services.

West Ada's Communications Director, Char Jackson, says overall for what the district needs for their buildings, custodial is down 30%.

"They're very important positions within our district," Jackson said. "The safety of our students and having a clean classroom is of utmost importance."