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State unemployment rate at 5.7 percent

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HELENA – Montana’s unemployment rate increased by 0.1 percentage points to 5.7 percent in January, hitting the same level as November 2012 after a slightly lower rate of 5.6 percent in December. The state unemployment rate has been on a downward trend since the end of 2010. The national rate also increased in January by 0.1 percentage points to 7.9 percent.

“Montana’s economy has made strong job gains over the last two years, gaining back most of the jobs lost during the recession and adding wages for Montana’s workers,” said Labor Commissioner Pam Bucy. “The pull-back in federal funding and the expiration of the payroll tax break are expected to slow growth in the next few months, but I am confident that our economy will continue to move forward and add jobs throughout the next year.”

Both the payroll employment estimates and the total employment estimates (which includes payroll workers, the self-employed, and agricultural workers) posted small employment decreases from December to January of 500 jobs and 800 jobs respectively. Continued job losses in the public sector offset gains in the health services industry. Over the entire year, job gains in both data series show employment growth of about 1.6 percent, or about 8,000 jobs.

Every February, the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and the Bureau of Labor Statistics recalculate the employment estimates for past years in a process called benchmarking. The process makes employment estimates more accurate, in addition to smoothing the data series and calibrating the data to new population estimates.

Benchmarked data indicates that Montana’s economy lost more jobs during the recession than first estimated, but the recovery since 2010 has been stronger than first thought. Revisions also reduced Montana’s unemployment rates during the recession. Montana’s unemployment rate hit a recession high of 6.8 percent in the last half of 2010 (compared to the initial estimates of 7 percent), and has since decreased to 5.7 percent. The highest historic unemployment rate for Montana was 8.8 percent in 1983.

The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers was unchanged for January, with prices falling over the last three months. Core inflation, measured by the all items less food and energy index, rose by 0.3 percentage points over the month, but was offset by declining gasoline prices.

Megan Paulson is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Outlaw Partners.

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