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Montana’s aging population, low unemployment make it tough to fill jobs, business group says


Montana’s aging population and low unemployment make it tough for businesses to fill job openings, according to an industry group that represents small businesses.

In November 2021, the state had 41,000 job openings and posted 20,000 new hires. But 19,000 people quit jobs and 9,000 layoffs were made, according to Ronda Wiggers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business–Montana.

“So basically, new hires and quits and layoffs were just a swap. And we didn’t fill all the job openings,” she told The Center Square.

Montana’s turnover rate is a little higher than the national average historically, she said, adding the unemployment rate is so low that it’s easier for people to quit.

The labor force participation in the younger generation, ages 15 to 24, is a bit lower. Wiggers said you hear people say kids don’t want to work these days, but the truth is that if Montana stayed on-trend from 2015, only 1,800 more workers would be in the labor force. That doesn’t do much for those 41,000 job openings, she said.

Smaller businesses are especially being affected heavily by turnover, Wiggers said. The number of people filing unemployment is just a little more than 8,000 people. That’s only 1.6% of the labor force, and the unemployment rate is 2.5%.

But many of those who quit jobs left businesses with five or fewer employees. The bigger the company, the fewer who quit.

“I would think this … kind of shows maybe they’re leaving for higher-paying jobs in some cases. And it makes it tough for a small business to try to replace those,” she said.

That’s difficult in a competitive market, which makes it harder to raise prices to cover the cost of more workers.

The unemployment numbers show the majority of those filing claims were males between 34-54. The highest number of workers in unemployment were in construction. Almost 3,100 of the 8,200 unemployed listed construction as their industry, but Wiggers noted that’s seasonal work because of Montana’s winters.

Other issues facing the labor market, according to Wiggers, are an aging population and a housing shortage.

“We have this aging population that still needs services and is still going out to eat and getting their hair done and having their lawn mowed and their car repaired,” Wiggers said. “But they’re retired. They’re not in the workforce, nor are they interested in being in the workforce.”

Wiggers said the housing market will correct itself after a few years once building ramps up.

This article was originally posted on Montana’s aging population, low unemployment make it tough to fill jobs, business group says

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