December’s economic data showed that Idaho continued to progress in what has become one of the fastest economic recoveries in the country, following the economic shock of the COVID pandemic in the spring months of 2020. Idaho’s nonfarm jobs continued their recovery and are now slightly above the breakeven point for the year, with total nonfarm jobs now exceeding the totals reached in December 2019.
Idaho’s total nonfarm jobs grew by 4,900 (0.6%) to 773,700 for December 2020. Substantial gains in trade, transportation and utilities (+2,400) as well as leisure and hospitality (+1,800) drove the increases, although most of Idaho’s major sectors enjoyed gains in December.
Eight of Idaho’s industries have now either grown over the year or regained their levels from December 2019. The financial activities sector has led the way with 9% growth year-over-year, driven by increased demand for real estate and related services. Most significantly, total nonfarm employment in Idaho has now fully recovered to its levels from December 2019.
Manufacturing in Idaho has grown by 5% year over year, although this recovery stumbled slightly in December. The durable goods manufacturing subsector shrank by half a percentage point in December, while non-durable goods manufacturing grew slightly.
Year over year, Idaho’s labor force was up by 18,894 (+2.1%) to 907,552. Total employment has also risen year over year, although the gains (+4,154, or 0.5%) are significantly smaller than the increase in the labor force. While total employment growth is positive year over year, it remains roughly 5,200 below the high point of March.
Idaho has benefited substantially from a relatively healthy labor force participation rate. Nationally, the turmoil of the pandemic has forced labor force participation rates down by nearly two full percentage points, to 61.5% in December. In Idaho, participation rates have fluctuated substantially throughout the year, but are currently at roughly 64%, allowing total labor force to continue a long-term growth trend even amid the disruption of the pandemic year.
Idaho’s unemployment rates continue to run below national rates, with Idaho at 4.4% for December, compared with the national rate of 6.7%. After falling quickly during the summer months, Idaho’s unemployment rate has begun to flatten out, as the state exhausts the job gains made from the summer reopening.
Idaho continues to outperform all neighboring states. Among Idaho’s neighbors, only Utah has attained similar recovery levels, while all other states remain at least 3% below their October 2019 employment levels.
After reattaining 2019 employment levels in October, Idaho became the first state to achieve a breakeven recovery index level, joined in December by Utah. All other states remain below their 2019 nonfarm employment levels. New York, Michigan and Hawaii remain the least recovered states, with nonfarm employment still more than 10% below 2019 levels. In addition to ranking first overall in nonfarm recovery, Idaho leads in several specific industries, including construction and financial activities. These sectors have proven highly resilient in Idaho due to continued demand for new housing and real estate services, driven by high levels of in-migration.
Overall, while challenges remain and Idaho’s unemployment rate remains elevated well above pre-COVID levels, the state’s economic recovery continues to set the pace for the nation. With nonfarm employment rebounding completely to reattain 2019 levels, and the state’s labor force spiking throughout the autumn months, Idaho appears well situated to continue its recovery from the COVID crisis throughout 2021 and beyond.
Sam.Wolkenhauer@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
Idaho Department of Labor
(208) 457-8789 ext 4451