January 7, 1995 in Nation/World

Jobless Rate Jumps In December Kootenai County’s Losses Blamed On Poor Weather

Eric Torbenson Staff writer

Unemployment in Kootenai County took the biggest jump in more than a decade in December, due mostly to poor weather that dampened construction and logging work.

Kootenai County unemployment rose to 9.7 percent from 7.9 percent for November 1994 and also for December 1993. The 1.8 percentage point increase in one month is the biggest jump since the recession of 1982, said Kathryn Tacke, labor analyst at the Idaho Department of Employment.

“Ninety-nine percent of that was the weather we had,” Tacke said. “We had a lot of snow on the ground in December 1994 and it hampered a lot of construction.”

But the sharp increase also portends what could happen if the construction industry slows down from the frantic pace of the past four years. Economic analysts consider that to be a strong possibility during 1995.

Jon Yarborough hopes the analysts are wrong. Penciling out unemployment forms at the Coeur d’Alene Job Service office, the 28-year-old Rathdrum man and eight-year veteran of the construction industry was looking for a way to pay the bills between cable-laying jobs.

“There’s just no work when it’s cold out,” Yarborough said. “I’m just looking to keep going until the next job.”

Tacke said her department is forecasting less construction work in the first part of 1995 than the area had in the first part of 1994. Just how much is difficult to forecast, but the construction sector overall seems to be losing steam, she said.

“We’ve seen a lot of construction workers file unemployment claims,” she said. “But they could be back at work in January because the weather seems to be cold but not so snowy, and those are conditions that they can work in.”

On the positive side, high unemployment could actually increase Kootenai County’s chances of landing Micron Technology Inc.’s new wafer plant by providing evidence of a large, available labor force.

Despite the recent addition of new employers like Harpers Inc., the county’s unemployment rate is almost double that of nearly all the 12 other finalists for the plant. The $1.3 billion facility would employ up to 3,500 workers.

Neighboring counties could use the jobs as well.

Bad weather pushed the Idaho Panhandle unemployment rate to 10.6 percent from 9 percent in November and 8.7 percent in Dec. 1993, though the way the employment department calculates the rate changed at the beginning of 1994, making year-to-year comparisons less accurate.

Shoshone County’s rate edged up to 13 percent from 12 percent in November, mostly due to muddy conditions in logging areas, said Gary Beck, manager of the Job Service office in Kellogg.

Shoshone’s rate remains the highest in North Idaho, he said, but doesn’t match Shoshone’s rates in the early ‘90s of 20 percent and more.

However, those rates were calculated under the old unemployment statistics system. Starting in January 1994, the department added thousands of people to the process and effectively cut the rate in half for Shoshone, Beck said.

Idaho’s statewide unemployment rate increased to 6.4 percent from 5.7 percent in November, mostly because of the weather and a slight slowdown in the state’s booming economy.

Unemployment rate changes from November for other Panhandle counties were as follows: Benewah, 10.7 percent, up from 9.7; Bonner 11.7, up from 10.2; Boundary, 9.8, up from 8.9.

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