Malheur County should brace for continued labor shortage, economist says

Audiences at the Western Treasure Valley Economic Breakfast heard that seniors are retiring faster than expected and employers are facing years of difficulty filling jobs. Tourism continues to be a bright spot in the area, an Idaho authority said.

A large crowd turned out for the budget lunch on Thursday, March 31 at the Four Rivers Cultural Center. (The Company/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – Employers should expect years of challenges filling jobs as the economy recovers from the pandemic and seniors accelerate their retirement, an Idaho state economist told a Ontario public last week.

Craig Shaul, an analyst with the Idaho Department of Labor, said labor force participation in Idaho is lower than it has been for about 50 years. Participation is a measure of people aged 16 and over who are working or looking for work.

Oregon’s participation rate is only slightly higher than Idaho’s.

Shaul discussed the state of the labor market at the Western Treasure Valley Economic Breakfast, held Thursday, March 31 at the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

About 100 people attended the breakfast hosted by the Snake River Economic Development Alliance, the Small Business Development Center at Treasure Valley Community College and the Ontario Region Chamber of Commerce.

The crowd was a mix of business executives and government leaders. Attendees included Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce, Malheur County Commissioner Ron Jacobs, Ontario Mayor Riley Hill, Vale Mayor Tom Vialpando, State Senator Lynn Findley, Rep. State Mark Owens and Treasure Valley Community College President Dana Young.

Shaul said Idaho has recovered stronger than any other state, noting its unemployment rate has fallen below 3%.

It showed 26,231 were unemployed in Idaho while employers posted 53,180 help-seeking ads, meaning thousands of jobs would still be unfilled if every unemployed person went to work.

The circumstances make it “extremely difficult” for employers to find workers, Shaul said. They are increasingly turning to recruiting workers already employed elsewhere.

“Employers will have to be creative with the workforce we have,” he said.

He cited several factors for the tight labor market.

He said retirees make up the largest share of those who have dropped out of the labor force. He said economists did not expect the level of retirements to reach current levels for another five years.

Shaul said these retirements were driven by what he called “FOMO” – the fear of missing out. He said the pandemic has deepened those feelings.

A low rate of natural population growth is another limitation to the labor force. He said most of the population growth in Idaho came from people moving from other states.

He warned employers that “we’re going to live with this for the next decade”.

While Shaul’s presentation was cautious, Matt Borud provided reason for optimism, at least when it comes to tourism. He is the Director of Marketing and Innovation at Idaho Commerce.

Borud said the growth in travelers so far in 2022 in Idaho has been “astronomical.”

He said Idaho has had one of the highest tourism growth rates in the United States and more opportunities are coming, he said.

“We can grow faster than the national average,” Borud said.

He said Idaho is taking a regional approach to travel marketing, which benefits Malheur County.

He said outdoor recreation “was the only game in town” during the pandemic.

“Even in the era of Covid, we were getting more visitors than before Covid,” Borud said.

He said visitors were interested in history and culture, and interest in food, beer and wine outlets was now “a huge, huge problem”.

He noted the growth of so-called short-term rentals, such as properties listed on VRBO. He said these now serve a significant number of travelers and customers using these properties tend to spend more locally than those in traditional accommodation.

Topical advice? Contact the Les Zaitz editorial staff by email: [email protected]

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $5 per month. Subscribe to the Company’s digital service and benefit from the best of local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy and an unwavering dedication to fairness. Get the kind of news you’re looking for – day by day from the Enterprise.

Comments are closed.