Idaho’s overall unemployment rate has dropped below 5 percent for the first time since July 2008.
According to data released Friday by the state Department of Labor, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 4.9 percent in May, down from 5 percent in April and well below the national rate of 6.3 percent.
The total number of people with jobs in the state increased by about 15,000 since this time last year, while the unemployment rate was down by 1.5 percentage points.
Department of Labor regional economist Dan Cravens called the decrease “positive news” for the state, since total employment and the size of the state labor force — those with jobs plus those looking for jobs — also increased.
“I think better employment prospects have brought discouraged job-seekers … back, looking for work and finding employment,” Cravens said.
Discouraged job-seekers are those without jobs who have given up looking for work. They are not counted as unemployed. So, when people stop looking for jobs it can cause the unemployment rate to drop, even if employment has not increased.
“Your ideal situation is when you see the unemployment rate go down, but you see the number of people working going up,” Cravens said.
Idaho’s real gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced in the state, adjusted for inflation — grew at a rate of 4.1 percent last year. That made Idaho the fifth-fastest growing state economy in the nation, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Locally, however, the news was mixed.
Bonneville County’s unemployment rate dropped, but that was due to individuals dropping out of the labor force rather than an increase in employment. Individuals aren’t included in the labor force when they are not employed and are not seeking a job, or if they move away.
The unemployment rate in Bonneville dropped from 4.3 percent in April to 4.1 percent in May, but the county’s economy lost 400 net jobs during that period. About 500 people dropped out of the labor force. A total of 51,588 people are employed in Bonneville County, about 200 fewer than there were employed at this time last year.
Rexburg continues to have the lowest unemployment rate — 3.6 percent — out of the 11 cities for which the Department of Labor tracks data. The city added about 300 new jobs in the past year.
At 4.3 percent, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and Boise tied for the fourth-lowest unemployment rate. Total jobs in Idaho Falls dropped by about 200 between April and May. About 300 people dropped out of the labor force.
There are 26,835 people employed in Idaho Falls, about 400 more than there were at this time last year.
Long-term trends in employment are more meaningful than short-term fluctuations, Cravens said.
Lemhi County continues to have persistently high unemployment at 7.5 percent. But that rate is better than the 10 percent unemployment rate the county faced at this time last year. Still, fewer people in the county are employed. About 100 people dropped out of the Lemhi labor force in the last year.