Helena – Montana Department of Labor and Industry Labor Day report releasedan annual breakdown of the state’s economy and workforce.
Leaders celebrated what they called a “booming economy” as Montana added 19,568 jobs in 2021 — the most reported in a single year. The statewide unemployment rate fell to 2.3%.
However, the report also showed clear challenges, as more than 40,000 monthly job openings in the state and inflation slowed the growth of workers’ “real wages.”
This year’s report shows stark differences in economic indicators across industries and regions. From 2019 to 2021, the strongest job growth was concentrated in business services, construction and trade, transport and utilities. Each of these industries added at least 2,000 jobs over 2019 levels. Executives pointed to the growth of technology companies, the availability of remote work opportunities and strong demand for new housing as some of the reasons for their growth.
In 2021, “leisure activities” — including hotels, restaurants and entertainment — will see the fastest single-year job growth of any industry in the state. However, they still have around 1,000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic started.
The report also showed that companies are still struggling to find available workers.
“For some reason, it was just hard,” said Amy Barrett, co-owner of Lasso the Moon Wonderful Toys in downtown Helena with her daughter Savannah.
Barrett is currently trying to replace a longtime employee who recently left.
“It’s a great job for someone who needs flexible hours and not too much time – retirees, Carroll College students,” she said. “It’s a good place to work.”
The position has been open for about a month and a half. Barrett said she hopes to find the right person soon – as the busy holiday season approaches.
“That’s a concern – we want someone trained well before it gets crazy,” she said.
According to the report, more than 20,000 employees will resign each month in the second half of 2021. Executives say the high number of vacancies provides workers with the opportunity to change jobs and negotiate better wages.
Average wages in Montana will rise 5.9% in 2021 to $51,331 as companies seek to attract workers. However, real wages based on inflation-adjusted purchasing power rose only 1.3%. In central and eastern Montana, prices are rising faster than wages, the report says.
Many of those leaving the workforce are baby boomers reaching retirement age. The State now has more than 200,000 retirees. Yet a higher percentage of people over the age of 65 are staying in the labor market than 20 years ago, according to the report.
The report once again identified housing affordability as the main limiting factor for workers. He revealed that home prices in Montana have risen 44.3% over the past two years, compared to 34.3% in the United States.