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Help Wanted: Idaho’s “job-seeker market” makes it hard to hire

POCATELLO, Idaho (KIFI) - 'Help Wanted' signs are glaring at drivers along Yellowstone Ave. in Pocatello, begging people to apply for a job.

Despite 1,500 people looking for work in Bannock County, according to the March 2021 preliminary report, hiring managers are having trouble finding anyone to take the job.

“We (currently) have more job postings than we have job seekers, and the last time that happened was sometime just before the pandemic,” said Esther Eke, the regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

Eke calls this a "job-seeker's market." It's happening nation-wide, too.

Idaho's jobless rate hit an all-time high last spring, during the height of the pandemic shut downs, of just over 11.5%. Nearly a year later, and the IDOL reports the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate returned to 3.2% in March, dropping slightly from 3.3% in February. April's job report is expected to be released Friday at noon.

“I think we are about where we were before (the pandemic),” said Esther Eke, the regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

But some parts of the economy are struggling to bounce back, as many retail and food service businesses are understaffed.

Multiple hiring managers that spoke with Local News 8 off-camera said they’re getting several applications from people, but when they reach out for an interview, the applicant doesn’t respond. Some speculated it could be because people are gaming the unemployment system. As of April 25, those enrolled in unemployment have to provide proof they’re searching for work, a stipulation waved during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of employers coming in desperate to find people, they’re posting and they’re not getting any responses. We were there in 2019 as well," Eke said.

Some economists and politicians believe the reason for the slow return to work is because some people are making more off unemployment than they were when they were working, leaving no incentive to get a job.

To test the theory, Governor Brad Little is withdrawing Idaho from all federal unemployment programs on June 19. He’s among 21 other states in the nation planning to stop the extra $300 weekly federal unemployment this summer.

But Eke believes the situation is more complicated than that. Other factors weighing into people's decision to stay out of the market could range from ongoing concerns about the pandemic, to childcare access, to holding out for better opportunities. It could also be that some people have left the retail and food service industries altogether.

“I think it seems like you have a lot of people who have found more opportunities to work from home," Eke said.

To attract workers, some employers are offering incentives, like Sonic's $100 hiring bonus. But Eke hopes the incentives are more long-term.

The job-seeker's market may give workers more bargaining power, Eke said. She hopes it will push wages up, as Idaho's cost-of-living continually increases.

To search for job openings through the Dept. of Labor, click here.

Article Topic Follows: Economy

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Emma Iannacone

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


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