Tight labor market pinches employers

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Staff Writer

POST FALLS — A recent job fair in Post Falls hosted by the Idaho Department of Labor painted the picture of just how tight the local labor market is.

More than 50 employers were looking to fill about 1,400 open jobs, but only about 250 job seekers came.

"With the labor supply this tight, we have to anticipate incremental job growth rather than big gains on a month-to-month basis," said Sam Wolkenhauer, Labor's regional economist.

That's the situation, he said, despite the fact that area employers are performing well and have the capacity for a lot of hiring activity, especially in industries such as construction and health care.

The Labor Department’s unemployment report released Friday states Kootenai County's jobless rate remained unchanged from February to March at 3.7 percent.

"It is not surprising that there’s no change in the employment numbers," Wolkenhauer said. "The labor situation is very tight right now, and it’s very difficult for employers to find people to bring on with the unemployment rate so low."

During an interview with The Press on Friday, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he's proud that the economy is roaring, but the state also has a role in assisting with the labor scene. He said continued investments into higher education will be critical so students stay here to work.

"We have to create a bigger talent pipeline," he said. "We have to have a workforce to maintain programs."

The local unemployment rate is between the state's rate of 2.9 percent and the nation's rate of 3.8 percent.

Idaho's rate has been at or below 3 percent for 16 straight months.

An additional 1,737 people entered the labor force in Idaho from February to March, a 0.2 percent increase that pushed Idaho’s seasonally adjusted labor force number up to 868,263, the report states. The number of unemployed increased by 141, or 0.6 percent, to 24,918. Total employment increased by 1,596, up 0.2 percent to 843,345.

Idaho’s labor force participation rate — the percentage of people age 16 years or older working or looking for work — increased one tenth of a percent to 63.9 percent.

Over the year, the March statewide labor force was up 16,797 (2 percent), total employment was up 16,931 (2 percent) and there were 134 (0.5 percent) fewer unemployed persons.

According to the Conference Board, a Washington, D.C., think tank, there were 21,466 online Idaho job openings in March compared with 23,541 a year ago.

Of those postings, 6,076 were classified as hard-to-fill by department analysts, down from 6,448 in March 2018. 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, represented about 22 percent of all hard-to-fill online job openings.

Idaho nonfarm jobs increased by 1,900 (up 0.3 percent) for a monthly total of 751,100. The largest month-to-month industry job gains were in construction (1.6 percent), information (1.2 percent) and professional and business services (0.9 percent). Trade, transportation and utilities, education and health services and government were the only three sectors that experienced job declines, shedding a combined total of 800 jobs.

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