Bringing the Economy Home

New Unemployment Data Shows A Stagnant Idaho Economy

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Last summer almost 70,000 Idahoans were out of work. That doesn't include people who've stopped looking for a job.

New numbers show Idaho’s unemployment rate hasn’t significantly improved in the last two years.  The rate hasn’t been below 8 percent since August 2009.  That means at least 60,000 Idahoans have been jobless since that time. Now, data from the Labor Department show while the number of people out of work hasn’t been as high as first thought, the rate hasn’t gone down much, either.

Explaining the Process

Calculating the state’s unemployment rate is a strange process.  Each month, the U.S. Census Bureau talks with about 600 Idaho households to collect data on employment, salary and other demographic info.  It’s called the Current Population Survey.

That information then goes to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Idaho Department of Labor for data analysts to estimate how many people in Idaho are out of work.  Those monthly figures are always estimates and once a year the data gets a second look.

An analyst in Idaho works with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to smooth the monthly numbers, making them as accurate as possible.  The monthly estimates collected over the course of the year get plugged into complicated algorithms and the end result is new, more accurate jobless data.  This entire process is dubbed “benchmarking.”

Bob Uhlenkott is the chief researcher at the Idaho Department of Labor.  He says most of the time, the benchmarking process flattens out the extremes.  But this time around, the 2010 and 2011 data changed more drastically than Uhlenkott would have predicted.

For example, the department estimated Idaho’s unemployment rate peaked at 9.7 percent in December 2010, but the recently benchmarked data shows the jobless rate never hit 9 percent.  The revised December 2010 jobless rate is actually 8.9 percent.

Uhlenkott says the wide swing is likely due to updated Census population estimates.  There are now more people living in Idaho, thus a larger workforce, and that data is just now catching up to unemployment collection methods.

Uhlenkott says revised data tells him a couple of things. There weren’t as many people out of work as we thought BUT, the jobless rate hasn’t really changed in the last two years, up or down.  And stagnation can be just as scary.

We’ve been tracking Idaho’s unemployment rate over the last six months through our series Jobless in Idaho and our app Work in Progress.  You’ll notice the data on the app will change toward the end of March when the state completes its benchmarking process.


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