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Workforce in Idaho near full employment as jobless rate drops to 3.7 percent

Jan. 20, 2017 Updated Fri., Jan. 20, 2017 at 6:03 p.m.

With a jobless rate of less than 4 percent, Idaho is comfortably at full employment. That’s when nearly everyone able and willing to work has a job.

The state’s unemployment rate ticked even lower in December, to 3.7 percent, after five straight months at 3.8 percent. A year ago Idaho’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate was 3.9 percent.

Washington’s unemployment stood at 5.2 percent in December, while the national rate is 4.7 percent.

In Kootenai County and Coeur d’Alene, the unemployment rate remained steady at 4.6 percent in December. A year ago it was 4.9 percent.

While total employment in the county rose by about 1,000 workers in 2016, the number of unemployed dropped only about 200, said Samuel Wolkenhauer, a regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

“What we saw over the last year was not so much that a lot of unemployed people found jobs, as people who weren’t formerly looking re-entered the labor force and found employment,” Wolkenhauer said.

Employment growth isn’t moving much because the area’s economy has been in an upward cycle for 18 months, he said.

“We’re pretty far over what a typical upturn would be, so it’s not surprising that jobs growth is kind of decelerating,” Wolkenhauer said. “Most of our skilled available labor is already employed, so there’s just not that much room to grow.”

The jobless rate in Post Falls dropped slightly in December to 4.3 percent; it stood at 5 percent a year ago.

The December rate was 5.6 percent in Boundary County and 5.2 percent in Bonner County.

Four counties in North Idaho remain above 6 percent unemployment: Clearwater (7.5 percent), Shoshone (7.4 percent), Lewis (7.2 percent) and Benewah (6.5 percent).

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