MISSOULA - The unemployment rate in Montana got a little tighter in February, dropping another 0.1%, according to the state’s monthly update.
The latest statewide figure of 2.6% remains below the national average of 3.8%. The state has now recovered all jobs estimated lost during the pandemic and has added another 22,500 jobs.
Gov. Greg Gianforte credited his office’s efforts for the employment gains while Sen. Jon Tester credited the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress last year, which provided small businesses, ag producers, and other industries with millions of dollars in relief funds.
Either way, the state’s economy is on the post-pandemic mend.
“Hardworking Montanans and Montana businesses are fueling our historic economic recovery, with record-low unemployment in Montana and more Montanans working than ever before,” Gianforte said in a statement.
The unemployment rate in Missoula fell to 3.1% in February with more than 3,242 jobs added since last year. Both Lake and Ravalli counties had an unemployment rate of 3.6% and have added 919 and 879 jobs respectively since last year.
According to the state report, Montana’s labor force reached its highest recorded level in February at more than 556,000 jobs. The figure was up around 1,300 over the prior month. Montana’s labor force has grown by nearly 11,000 workers from its pre-pandemic level in March of 2020, according to the state.
“Thanks to ARPA, Montana’s unemployment rate is currently the lowest rate in state history,” Tester said. “We continue to see ARPA deliver for Montanans by getting folks back to work and helping our economy rebound.”
While the job figures remain strong, inflation may be cutting into the gains. Both Gianforte and Tester have recognized the pain of inflation, though they disagree on the cause.
“While Montanans are making gains, skyrocketing inflation is making it harder to fill their gas tanks, put food on their table, and make ends meet,” Gianforte said. “It’s time for the federal government to get inflation under control by putting an end to its out-of-control spending.”
Tester said the price of oil is down though the drop isn’t yet present at the gas pump. He also said new legislation will help ease inflation.
“The Russian war isn’t the only thing raising prices,” Tester said on Thursday. “Decades of unchecked consolidation of the meatpacking industry has caused prices to lift, and the lack of funding for local meat processing plants has made that problem worse.”
Tester recently secured $7.8 million to aid 30 small Montana ag businesses through ARPA. The funding will go to 17 local meat processing projects, including three new facilities and enlarging three others.
“Increasing competition in the marketplace will ensure Montana producers get a fair shake and consumers aren’t paying an arm and leg for our beef,” Tester said.