By BRIAN WALKER
POST FALLS — Expansion of existing companies, not the opening of large new businesses, have been the biggest factor for absorbing influx of the working class moving to Kootenai County, an Idaho Department of Labor economist said.
"This job growth has been mostly incremental across a wide swath of industries," said Sam Wolkenhauer, local labor economist. "Most of the industries in Kootenai County have grown in the last year through incremental expansion to keep up with orders."
Kootenai County's unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percent in March to 3.6, according to a Department of Labor report released on Friday.
"This is well within the bounds of normal month-to-month flux and turnover," Wolkenhauer said. "On the whole, our local labor market is quite healthy, though it’s still a tight market for skilled positions in health care, construction and other specialized work.
"It will be especially informative to see how the summer months fare as construction, resort employment, and other seasonal work ramps up."
The state's jobless rate also dropped a tenth of a percent to 2.9, while the nation's number remained unchanged at 4.1 for the sixth consecutive month.
The state's dip ended a six-month run in the 3 percent range. It remains at low levels last seen in 2007 and 2008.
The state’s labor force — the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work — increased by 1,646 from February to March for an all-time record high of 848,097.
Total employment increased by 1,963 to 823,423 while the number of unemployed dropped by 317 to 24,674.
Idaho’s labor force participation rate held steady at 64 percent for the third consecutive month.
Over the year, statewide labor force for March was up 22,745 (2.8 percent), total employment was up by 25,582 (3.2 percent) and there were 2,837 (10.3 percent) fewer unemployed persons.
According to the Conference Board, a Washington, D.C., think tank, there were 22,100 online Idaho job openings in March compared with 23,136 a year ago. Of these postings, 4,608 were classified as hard-to-fill, down from 5,008 in March 2017.
Hard-to-fill positions are those continuously posted for 90 days or more. Health care occupations, including physicians, surgeons, psychiatrists, occupational and physical therapists and support positions, represent about 23 percent of all hard-to-fill online job openings.
Six counties experienced rates at or above 5 percent, including: Clearwater, 7 percent; Shoshone, 5.7; Lewis and Adams, 5.3 percent; Benewah, 5.1 percent; and Boundary, 5 percent. Madison County’s unemployment rate remained the lowest at 1.8 percent.