Kirkam

Dana Kirkham

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Idaho Falls is among the nation’s best metropolitan job markets, with a 2 percent unemployment rate as of August.

A metropolitan market has at least one urban area with 50,000 or more residents, plus a high degree of commuters from surrounding areas.

Idaho Falls has the second lowest unemployment rate among U.S. metropolitan markets. Ames, Iowa, has the lowest at 1.7 percent, two points below the 3.7 percent national unemployment rate.

The national unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since December 1969, according to a statement from the White House.

Four other Idaho metropolitan areas are below the national average. Unemployment in Boise and Pocatello is 2.3 percent, and in Coeur d’ Alene and Lewiston it’s 2.6 percent.

The state’s unemployment rate is 2.3 percent, second only to Hawaii (2.2 percent) for the lowest in the country.

The Idaho Falls labor pool grew by about 1,000 workers over the last year, according to the data, and unemployment dropped from 2.3 percent to 2 percent.

Much of the growth comes from companies in the technology, nuclear and energy sector, according to Dana Kirkham, CEO at Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho. Those jobs are high-paying and boost the region’s median income.

“It is a vibrant job market at the moment with a lot of potential,” Kirkham said.

However, Kirkham warns, there’s still work to be done. Unemployment statistics don’t represent people in Idaho Falls who may be underemployed, meaning they have a job, but it’s not sustainable to meet their needs, she said.

“The numbers look good. It’s nice to be able to say we have a low unemployment rate,” Kirkham said. “But I would caution. We know, statistically, people are still underemployed. We have to ask ourselves, ‘We’ve got people working but are they really sustainable incomes, are they family incomes?’”

Additionally, Kirkham said eastern Idaho should improve workforce education and development so that locals can get an education in the region, then find a sustainable job and stay near home.

REDI is collecting data on underemployment and workforce development, Kirkham said.

Yuma, Ariz., and El Centro, Calif., have the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 22 percent and 20.3 percent, respectively. Those cities are outliers, however, as the next highest unemployment rate after El Centro is Visalia-Porterville, Calif., at 8.7 percent.

California — which has a 4.3 percent state unemployment rate — has 20 metropolitan cities with unemployment rates higher than the national average.

Five of the top 10 states with the lowest unemployment are in the Midwest. The states with the worst unemployment rates are Washington, D.C. (6.1 percent), Louisiana (5.5 percent), Alaska (5.4 percent) and Arizona (5.3 percent).

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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