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Idaho jobless rate highest in 5 years

Experts expect trend to worsen into 2009

Unemployment in Idaho jumped to its highest level in more than five years last month, with the likelihood the numbers will get worse, the state Department of Labor said Friday.

At 5.4 percent, the statewide rate was double that of October 2007. Rural counties were particularly hard hit, with six — three in North Idaho — reporting rates above 10 percent, but rates climbed in every county.

There were almost 700 unemployed in Shoshone County, lifting the rate there to 11.6 percent from 7.6 percent a year ago. Some of the losses were from closure of the Sunshine Mine.

With 500 jobless, Boundary County experienced a 10.8 percent rate, up from 6.5 percent in October 2007. Benewah County’s rate was 10 percent, also up from 6.5 percent a year ago.

Unemployment in Kootenai County climbed to 6.6 percent, and in Bonner County to 7.2 percent.

Layoffs in the timber industry were most damaging, but the construction, mining, retail and restaurant sectors also deteriorated, regional labor economist Kathryn Tacke said.

Even the boost provided by Canadian tourism has disappeared as the purchasing power of the Canadian dollar has tumbled, she said.

Lower gasoline prices, which helps the transportation sector, and the growth of Quest Aviation in Sandpoint are among the few bright spots, Tacke said.

Most disturbing, said the labor department’s chief research officer, is the increasing pace of job losses, with the gap widening month by month between 2007 and 2008 rates. “They’re gaining momentum rather than losing momentum,” Bob Uhlenkott said. “It’s going to take a while to turn this ship around.”

Uhlenkott noted the report does not yet reflect cutbacks announced last month by Micron Technology Inc. or by MPC Computer, which filed for bankruptcy Friday. The Boise-Nampa area already accounts for 45 percent of 40,000 Idahoans unemployed, the most since the early 1980s.

He predicted job numbers would not recover until well into 2009.

The swelling unemployment rolls are rapidly liquidating the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which will trigger a decrease of perhaps 3 percent in the monthly checks to those out of work, and a significant increase in employer tax rates come January.

So far in 2008, about $183 million in state and federal unemployment benefits have been paid out, compared with $102 million through the same period in 2007.


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