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East Idaho job market recovering, some counties faster than others


POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) - East Idaho's job market is rebounding from the strict, life-saving measures put in place during the start of the pandemic.

Since April, East Idaho has been on a trajectory of recovery, and the state is leading the country in terms of economic momentum and personal income growth over the past year.

The most recent data released on Friday shows December’s unemployment rates in the region are 3.8% in Southeast Idaho and 3.3% in East Idaho, which accounts for about 7,000 people out of a job.

By contrast, in December 2019, unemployment rates were 2.6% and 2.3%, respectively.

Idaho's job market, like the nation's, was at record unemployment before the pandemic.

“In one month, we went from the lowest unemployment rate to the highest unemployment rate on record. That was in April," said Esther Eke, the regional Labor Economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

During the most stringent pandemic shutdowns, East Idaho saw an unemployment rate of 7.8% and Southeast Idaho saw 8.6%. While the job losses were a blow to the area, the region wasn't hit as hard compared to the statewide unemployment rate of 11.8%.

“With the exception of Teton County, all the counties in our region had unemployment rates that were lower than the statewide average,” Eke said.

Eke attributes the softer impact in part because larger companies in the region, like Melaleuca, Lamb Weston, and Amy’s Kitchen, were able to avoid large-scale layoffs, and some even added jobs. Certain industries in the area were impacted less than other parts of the state and country.

“Construction industry has been on a good trajectory for a long time and with the influx of people moving out here, we have a very hot housing market and it’s causing employment to grow for them,” Eke said.

Due to Idaho's diverse economy, some counties have had a more difficult time bouncing back, while others seem to be blooming.

The hospitality industry is still struggling to bounce back, which is contributing to the slow recovery of the tourist area, Teton County.

However, some unexpected counties are leading the region in recent job growth. 

Preliminary data shows Bingham County added 1,300 jobs and Madison County added 1,700 jobs in December.

“Which I thought was pretty interesting because usually, most of the job growth is in the major counties like Bannock County and Bonneville County,” Eke said.

Eke attributes the rural counties' growth to an increase in construction and food processing jobs.

By contrast, Bannock County is still seeing layoffs, with the Pocatello metro area losing about 700 jobs in December, Eke said.

Despite unprecedented job losses in the Spring, Idaho Falls is still one of the fastest growing areas in terms of non-farm jobs.

“What we’ve been seeing with the non-farm (job) numbers has been that Idaho Falls has been surpassing the state and even surpassing a lot of national MSAs (Metropolitan statistical areas),” Eke said.

The unemployment rate accounts for people who are out of a job and are looking for work. It does not include people who are working part time who used to work full time, and it can’t measure the quality of jobs people are working.

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Emma Iannacone

Emma is a reporter for Local News 8 and KIDK Eyewitness News 3.


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