Unemployment Rises in Montana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA (AP) – Montana’s unemployment rate ticked upward in December to its highest level in two years, but remained below the national rate and economists said they do not find the Montana economy slowing down.

The state unemployment rate rose to 3.6 percent last month, the highest rate since December 2005, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

“It’s still pretty low in terms of historic (unemployment) and what people consider a normal unemployment level,” said Barbara Wagner, an economist in the department. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 5 percent.

Economist Paul Polzin of the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research in Missoula said he does not see an economic dip in the state, even though the economy nationally shows signs of turning down.

“Our economy is more dependent on world conditions, rather than national conditions,” Polzin said Friday.

Montana products such as oil, grain and mined metals are drawing strong prices globally. The state Commerce Department announced Friday that Montana’s commodity exports hit a record $1.04 billion in November, nearly 32 percent above the record set in 2006.

“Our industries continue to be very strong,” Polzin said. “None of them are related to the financial services industry, things like that, that are really in trouble.”

Montana’s top commodity exports near the end of the year, excluding Montana grain sent overseas from grain-handling facilities on the West Coast, included ore, stone, wood and wood products, the Commerce Department said.

Job creation in Montana has remained strong during the past year, Polzin said.

In nonfarm work during December 2006, Montana had 434,700 jobs compared to 449,300 last month, up 3.4 percent, said the labor department’s Wagner. Although Montana continued to add jobs, work in agriculture and self-employment during the year fell from 49,700 jobs to 29,200, she said.

State figures indicate unemployment is highest in the far corner of northwestern Montana, an area long hit hard by mill closures and other setbacks in the timber industry. Areas with unemployment well below the state average include eastern Montana’s oil producing Richland County.

Polzin declined to comment on reasons that unemployment rates differ from one part of Montana to another.

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