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Montana unemployment falls to 3.6% and 3.2% in Missoula; inflationary fears linger

A local fast food restaurant in Missoula is one of many to increase wages to attract new workers.

Montana’s unemployment rate continued its steady decline last month, and employers continued to scramble to find workers to fill jobs.

The unemployment rate in May dropped to 3.6% statewide compared to 5.8% nationally. In Missoula County, it was a scant 3.2%, and in Ravalli County, just 3.1%.

This time last year, the statewide unemployment rate was 9.1%.

“Montanans who were sidelined during the pandemic are returning to the workforce and getting back to work,” Gov. Greg Gianforte said in a statement. “Our continued recovery depends on continuing these positive trends, so our businesses can meet their growing customer demand.”

But businesses across the state and in nearly all sectors have reported a shortage of available workers, and that too has had an impact on the economy. Last week, Missoula County was forced to postpone a $13 million infrastructure project for a full year due to a shortage of “materials and labor.”

Some businesses have been forced to cut back hours over their inability to find workers. Others have had to ramp up wages, even at fast food restaurants. Fears over inflation are starting to linger.

To help combat the labor shortage, Gianforte in May launched a return-to-work bonus program using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Return-to-work bonuses of $1,200 will be paid to individuals who remain unemployed and who rejoin the labor force. To receive the bonus, they must accept and maintain steady employment for at least one month.

The state will also end its participation in federal pandemic-related unemployment benefit programs. Instead, it will move to general unemployment insurance used before the pandemic by the end of June.

“With the federal government continuing to consider trillions and trillions of dollars in more spending, inflation continues to be cause for concern,” Gianforte said. “Ultimately, inflation reduces the value of the paychecks hardworking Montanans earn, and I urge the federal government to turn off the spigot of out-of-control spending that’s driving up inflation and our national debt.”

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