Unemployment rates in North Idaho continue to fall, driven by a roaring economy and hiring at the new Buck Knives and Sysco Food Services plants in Post Falls.
Kathryn Tacke, a labor market economist based in Coeur d’Alene, said unemployment rates in the Panhandle are “probably the lowest they have ever been.”
It’s hard to say for sure, though, because the federal government changed the way it calculates unemployment rates and the historic data is being reworked to conform to the new method, she said.
Still, Tacke said, “I’ve been a labor market economist here for almost 17 years, and I’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing.”
The combined unemployment rate for the five northernmost counties in Idaho was 4.7 percent in March, compared with 6 percent a year ago. All together, about 97,000 people had jobs, a gain of about 4,200 from March 2004.
That compares with March unemployment rates of 4.2 percent for all of Idaho and 5.2 percent for the United States.
Tacke said it’s important to note that some recent setbacks don’t show up in the Panhandle’s most recent unemployment data.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort’s early closure, for example, came a week after the March rates were calculated, and CEDU Educational Services’ abrupt closure of three schools in Boundary County happened late in the month.
Also, she said, while low unemployment is “really exciting from the perspective of job-seekers,” it can be frustrating for employers.
“The falling unemployment rate is making it more difficult for employers – especially in manufacturing, construction, landscaping and related ‘brawn’ jobs – to find and keep qualified workers,” Tacke wrote in connection with the release of the March jobless rates.
Tacke said there are about 600 job listings in the Idaho Commerce and Labor department’s job service office in Coeur d’Alene, an “unprecedented” number for this time of year.