How low can the rate go?

Local jobless rate the lowest it's been since February 2008

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POST FALLS - Kootenai County's May jobless rate reached its lowest mark since February 2008 at 4.4 percent, the Idaho Department of Labor said Friday.

The rate is down from 4.5 percent in April.

"The unemployment rate dropped largely because of many different sectors expanding their hiring slightly," said Kathryn Tacke, Labor economist. "Among the industries that have done considerable hiring in the last few months are call centers, retail, leisure and hospitality and temporary help agencies."

Between May 2014 and May 2015, about 4,450 more Kootenai County residents became employed, Tacke said.

"That's a strong 6.8 percent surge in total employment," she said.

Tacke said the rate is likely to "stay in this ballpark" for the rest of the summer since employment is growing at a slow but steady pace and the labor force is as well.

"It'll be interesting to see how much Canadian visitors to Kootenai and Bonner counties drop as a result of the strengthening of the value of the U.S. dollar, which reduces the spending power of the Canadian dollar in the U.S. by 18 percent and therefore makes it considerably more expensive for Canadians to shop and play here," she said. "But on the other hand, the continued improvement of the U.S. economy is likely to bring more tourists, and tourist operations are reporting high reservations."

Tacke said the Coeur d'Alene area had the highest rate among the five metro areas in the state at 4.4 percent because the recession impeded it most severely and because it has a higher level of seasonal unemployment because of the importance of tourism, logging and outdoor activities.

An increase in people looking for work nudged Idaho's unemployment rate up slightly in May, from 3.8 to 3.9 percent, the report states.

Nationally, unemployment also edged to 5.5 percent, allowing Idaho to continue a five and a half year streak of remaining well below the national average.

May is the fifth consecutive month Idaho's labor force and the state participation rate increased, taking some pressure off a tight labor market. Another 3,800 people were added to the labor force, pushing the total to 795,445, while the state's labor participation rate - the percentage of working-age adults on the job or looking for work - grew to 64.2 percent.

Employers continued a healthy hiring trend by adding more than 3,000 people to their payrolls, increasing the state's total employment to 764,460, another record-breaking level. Between January and May of this year, total employment increased by 17,800 or an average of 2.4 percent, the highest numeric increase and percentage change on record for that time period.

Month to month, Idaho's nonfarm job growth continued across all sectors in May, up 1.2 percent, with the largest gains in construction, trade and transportation, retail, leisure and government. Annually, nonfarm jobs maintained an average growth rate of 2.5 percent, with construction and financial activities continuing April's trend and showing year-over-year gains of 7.8 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively.

It's been nearly a year since any of Idaho's 44 counties reported a double-digit unemployment rate.

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