By Martin J. Kidston
The number of jobs in Hill County has reached an all-time high, but with more people looking for work, the rate of unemployment remains the same.
According to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Research and Analysis, the number of jobs available in Hill County surpassed the original high set in 1981, indicating that perhaps the local economy is on a rebound.
However, the number of people actively looking for work within the county has also climbed above the 1982 record, keeping the number of new jobs in check and the unemployment rate relatively even.
Pam Harada, manager of the Montana Job Service in Havre, explained the statistics as being deceptive at best, as certain factors tend to escape the numbers.
The labor force is made up of people who are available for work, able to work and actively looking for work, Harada said. So if youre a homemaker, a student in school or retired, youre not considered to be a member of the labor force.
Harada said that unemployment records only keep track of those registered with the Montana Job Service, and because of such statistical oversights the number of unemployed may be higher than what records show.
This May, job seekers appear to be down from last May, but does that mean there are more people in school? Retired? Staying at home and not working? The labor force is only the pool of people who are registered and actively looking for work.
According to statistics, in 1992, Hill County had a civilian labor force of 8,563 people. However, there were only 7,997 jobs available, leaving 566 active job seekers unemployed. The difference created an unemployment gap of 6.6 percent. By 1997, that rate had dropped to 5.4 percent before inching back up in 1998 to 5.8 percent.
The numbers are down significantly from 1983, where unemployment in Hill County hit 8.1 percent.
In order to keep unemployment in check amidst what some call an agricultural crisis requires a growing number of jobs to employ a greater number of workers.
Statistics show that Hill County is enjoying a boom in new businesses which are paying more in annual wages.
In 1996, the county had 586 registered businesses paying workers a combined $114.2 million in annual wages. By 1997, the numbers had grown, showing that 598 businesses paid $117.8 million in wages.
For a region heavily dependent upon agriculture, the numbers belie bad times for farmers and ranchers.
You cant see the agricultural crisis directly related in the numbers, Harada said. Its the feel from the economy and the impact it has on businesses.