AP Spins Record Low Unemployment as Problem That Could Get Worse

Most Americans understand that unemployment declining is a good thing.

Yet, the folks at the Associated Press seem confused about this economic statistic as evidenced by an article published Saturday entitled "Help Wanted Ads Go Unanswered in West."

In fact, contrary to a media fixated on bashing corporations and business owners as greedy little devils, Matt Gouras' piece actually elicited sympathy for folks normally in the press' crosshairs while oddly downplaying the benefits tight labor markets typically bring employees (emphasis added throughout, h/t to an NB reader in Hawaii):

Record low unemployment across parts of the West has created tough working conditions for business owners, who in places are being forced to boost wages or be creative to fill their jobs.


Unemployment rates have been as low as 2 percent this year in places like Montana, and nearly as low in neighboring states. Economists cite such factors as an aging work force and booming tourism economies for the tight labor market.

For places like Montana, it has been a steady climb in the nearly two decades since the timber and mining industry recession. The state approached double-digit unemployment levels in the 1980s and began the slow crawl back in the early 1990s.

"This is actually the biggest economic story of our time, and we don't quite grasp it because it is 15 years in the making," said economist Larry Swanson, director of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports the mountain West region - covering eight states along the Rocky Mountains - has the lowest overall unemployment rate in the nation. The region hit an all-time low of 3.4 percent in May.

Should be good news, right? Not so fast:

The effects are everywhere. Logging equipment in Idaho sits idle as companies have a tough time finding workers. A shortage of lifeguards has forced Helena to shorten hours at children-only pools. A local paper in Jackson, Wyo., has page after page of help wanted ads.

In Jackson Hole, the Four Seasons Resort still had openings in late July. The problem has created longer hours and tougher working conditions for current employees.

For years, the resort has imported dozens of workers from Eastern Europe who often come as much for the summer recreation opportunity as the money. This year, however, that wasn't enough and so for the first time the resort also sent recruiters to a high school job fair, said spokeswoman Greer Terry. It only helped a little.

"It's been a struggle finding employees this summer," Terry said.

Of course, this should be good news for workers that media outlets normally favor in such reports. Sadly, even this was presented with an obviously sour aftertaste:

"The squeeze is on. You get into these 2 percent and less unemployment rates and you're moving into a seller's market with the seller being the worker," Swanson said.

Officials worry the razor thin labor market could bind economic growth, although there has been no indication of that yet.

Amazing, wouldn't you agree? After all, this has already translated into much higher wages in the region: "Utah workers saw a 5.4 percent average wage increase in 2006."

That's good news, isn't it? Not according to Gouras: "But questions remain about how long the West can weather the problems that come with low unemployment."

The problems that come with low unemployment. Somehow I doubt such problems were being highlighted in the tail end of the '90s before the tech bubble burst.

Economy Unemployment Wages & Prices Associated Press
Noel Sheppard's picture