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Idaho jobless rate at all-time low

Idaho’s unemployment rate sunk to a record low of 2.8 percent in February, and the Kootenai County jobless rate was close behind at 3.2 percent.

The figures underscore what local employers have known for months: Competition for workers is getting tougher.

A strong ski season, robust construction industry and retail hiring boosted demand for workers throughout the state and the region in February. For the 22nd straight month, Idaho’s unemployment rate was below 4 percent.

Both Kootenai and Bonner counties also posted historic low unemployment rates for the month of February.

“Our economy has been one of the strongest in the nation and seems to be picking up steam in 2007,” Roger Madsen, Idaho’s Commerce & Labor director, said in a statement Friday.

Kootenai County added an estimated 2,900 jobs last year. Job creation has also been brisk in rural counties, said Kathryn Tacke, a regional state economist. Shoshone County, which traditionally has one of the highest jobless rates in the state, saw its unemployment rate drop to 5.5 percent last month.

But not every aspect of low unemployment is positive, Tacke said. In addition to job growth, the rates reflect the graying of the labor pool.

Nationally and regionally, the number of workers is growing more slowly than it has in the past, she said. “More folks are retiring, and the generation entering the labor pool is smaller,” Tacke said.

That’s particularly true in Kootenai County, she added.

“We don’t have as many people in their 20s and 30s with kids moving into the area – partly because there are fewer of them nationwide,” she said.

High housing costs are also a factor.

“Young professionals are choosing to move to other places because of the gap between housing and wages,” Tacke said.