Flathead jobless rate lowest since 2008

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Flathead County’s unemployment rate has dipped to its lowest point since 2008, according to Kalispell Job Service Manager Laura Gardner, who has tracked local employment trends for years.

The county posted a 3.3% jobless rate in July, down from 4% in June, according to the state Department of Labor.

Gardner said a shortage of labor, rather than jobs, is the chief concern in Flathead County.

“Employers are just crying for help,” she said. “A lot of that’s because we have so many businesses and services from Glacier National Park traffic and employers are struggling to fill” that demand, she explained. Seasonal positions and jobs in tourism are a particular issue for Flathead County.

But Gardner pointed out the types of businesses affected by the labor shortage are “all over the place.”

“The service industry is huge,” as it relates to this shortage, but she noted it affects sectors like health care and construction as well. “Across the board, people just can’t find enough workers,” she insisted.

One reason for the difficulty in filling positions here, Gardner suggested, is the lack of affordable housing. “Housing is hard to find, so that’s an issue there,” she noted. This difficulty can prevent potential new employees from coming to the area and filling those needs.

“The labor force has increased,” she pointed out. The total current employment of Flathead County was 48,261 in July. This total was an increase from 47,182 in June.

But despite the increase, Gardner said Flathead County employers are “still having trouble” meeting their needs.

At Kalispell Job Service, she said she advises employers to address this issue by looking at “untapped labor” sources, such as disabled workers, older or younger workers or workers with felonies.

“Think outside the box,” she urged.

Montana’s unemployment rate reached a 10-year-low in July for a second consecutive month. The statewide rate declined to 3.4% and the rate for Flathead County fell to 3.3%. Both rates are below the national rate, which persisted steadily at 3.7%.

Rates fell from June to July across the state and in local counties, according to the state Department of Labor. The statewide rate showed a slight dip from 3.5% in June to 3.4% in July.

Sanders and Lincoln Counties saw the most significant decreases of 0.8 percentage points. Sanders County had 4.3% unemployment and Lincoln County reached 5% in July. Lake County decreased from 3.8% to 3.4% in the same time period.

Total employment, which includes agricultural, payroll and self-employed workers, indicated a gain of 1,371 jobs in July, while the labor force grew by 791.”

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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