Idaho's economic recovery continues to be one of the fastest in the country

Posted at 8:21 AM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 10:21:00-04

According to the Idaho Department of Labor (IDOL), Idaho's economy is continuing to rebound faster than almost anywhere in the country.

According to data from the department, Idaho is the first state in the country to see job growth recover to and even exceed pre-pandemic levels in almost all industries.

Idaho hit historic high rates of unemployment last year--but according to the latest data from the Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho's unemployment rate is now resting at 3.2%.

Even still, some companies are struggling to fill open positions. Bob Vetter, Manager of the Idaho Department of Labor's Caldwell Branch, says it's become a competitive job market--in a different way than years past.

"In years past, recessions past, it's been the other way around--there were lots of job seekers looking for a small number of jobs," Vetter says. "Now it's the other way around and job seekers should come and take advantage."

Our media partners, Boise Dev, reports the workforce fought to keep up with demand from employers prior to the pandemic. Then, COVID-19 broke out and Idahoans left the workforce due to childcare issues, early retirements due to health concerns and some workers took advantage of training programs to step into higher-paying careers.

“There’s just a lot more competitors for that pool of workers employers are looking for,” said Craig Shaul, Regional Economist Supervisor for the Idaho Department of Labor. “They have higher wage opportunities now.”

IDOL reports seasonally adjusted jobs (except agriculture-related jobs) were up more than a percentage over March of 2020. As a matter of fact, Idaho is one of only two states in the entire country that have had positive year-to-year job growth.

"Idaho has emerged from 2020 and the pandemic into 2021 as one of the least affected states in terms of job loss from the pandemic," explained Shaul. "The nation kind of had this dip and was averaging around 6 percent below where it was at the start of February 2020, and we're 1.3% as of March above where we were in February 2020."

Shaul says it's hard to pinpoint exactly one reason why Idaho's recovery has been so quick. Instead, he points to a variety of factors--including growth.

"Well it's just that Idaho seems to have the magic ingredient," Shaul explained. "It has open spaces, it was already growing really fast before the pandemic hit--we were at low unemployment with nonfarm jobs growing faster than we anticipated and we have a steady influx of people moving into the state to keep that growth going."

According to data from IDOL, that growth has meant a boom in construction jobs. Of the top six industries that showed the greatest job gains, construction was in second place with 7 percent of job gains. Shaul attributes that growth to the housing boom--but says it could have gone even further.

"Those numbers, those growth numbers we're seeing for those industries, probably would have been even higher for Idaho if we had the right skilled workers that could fill those positions," Shaul explained.

As Idaho News 6 has reported, data shows the scarcity of skilled workers is growing more intense, despite the amount of unemployment created by the pandemic. Shaul broke down the numbers and possible reasoning behind this shortage in a report for the Idaho Department of Labor.

According to Shaul, some industries have suffered more than others, but for people who are unemployed or thinking about a transition to a skilled job with more security and higher pay – or need funding support for training – it’s a job seeker’s market.

According to the report, the lack of skilled workers isn't a new problem.

"Idaho and the nation were experiencing one of the longest periods of expansion in history prior to 2020," Shaul writes. "Finding skilled workers available to fill jobs had been a challenge for several years. Demographics and population growth limited the number of new people available to work."

According to Shaul, industries were caught between demand for services and a lack of workers to complete those services. COVID-19 made that problem more intense.

"In addition to the tragic loss of life, the economic disruption caused in the United States by COVID-19 has not been the same for each industry," Shaul writes. "The large number of job losses during 2020 were most concentrated in hospitality and consumer services – industries the pandemic impacted the most. Occupations most affected by layoffs tended to pay lower-than-average wages, resulting in the emergence of what some economists have dubbed the K-Shaped Recession."

According to the report, workers earning less than $16 per hour have endured more unemployment during the pandemic than occupations paying more $16 or more.

"This divergence in job losses by wage developed as the result of how different industries were affected by the pandemic over 2020," Shaul explains. "Construction and other services are examples of two Idaho industry sectors experiencing this phenomenon."