At first glance, it’s good news. Idaho’s unemployment rate ticked down yet another tenth of a percentage point in August, falling to a three-year low of 7.4 percent. That’s better than the national rate of 8.1.
But, like the nation as a whole, Idaho is now facing an unhappy trend: its labor force is also shrinking.
According to the state Department of Labor, there were 2,600 fewer people in the Idaho labor force in August as compared to July. In other words, the unemployment rate isn’t falling because that many more people have jobs. It’s falling because people have given up looking.
After three straight months during which Idahoans exited the labor force — for a total decline of 5,500 workers — the number of people who have jobs or are looking for work in the state stands at its lowest level since January.
There is an upside to the August figures. If you widen the lens, and consider how the state’s unemployment picture has changed since this time a year ago, there’s improvement. The Department of Labor reports that there were 17,000 more people working in the state this August as compared to last.
Also, the ratio of people looking for work to the number of jobs available is also coming down. There are five people looking for every two available positions, says the Conference Board. That’s the most favorable ratio since 2008.
Nine counties still posted double-digit unemployment rates last month, compared to 15 counties a year ago. Still topping that list is hard-hit Adams County, with an unemployment rate of 17.6 percent.