Iowa ended 2017 with an unemployment rate it has not seen since late 2000.
The state’s jobless rate fell to 2.8 percent in December, down from 3.5 percent a year before, Iowa Workforce Development reported Tuesday. The last time the rate was that low was in October 2000.
Nonfarm companies added 28,300 jobs during the year, with large increases for the Iowa’s manufacturing (11,700 jobs added), financial activities (4,600 added), and education and health services (6,900 added).
“All of those categories are high-pay, high-quality and high-multiplier jobs. In and of itself, this stands out as a relatively good employment year,” Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson said.
Some of the gains were offset by a 7,500 job loss in Iowa’s construction sector.
While the latest numbers show good news for much of Iowa’s economy, the state will need to keep an eye on how many people actually are participating in the workforce.
In 12 months, 8,800 people left Iowa’s labor force, the state numbers show. That means Iowa has fewer people actively looking for work.
“Labor contraction is going to be an issue. It’s going to constrain the state’s ability to grow and the only way for us to deal with that … we have to promote in-migration,” Swenson said.
Fewer people searching for jobs can also contribute to the lower unemployment rate, Swenson noted.
Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend used Tuesday’s report to plug Future Ready Iowa, an initiative by Gov. Kim Reynolds to increase the number of Iowans with post-high school training.
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“With an unemployment rate at 2.8 percent, Iowa must address the shortage in skilled workers,” Townsend said. “It will take all hands on deck to sustain economic growth, including support from our partners in K-12, community colleges, universities, business and industry, economic developers and nonprofits — all of whom participated in writing the Future Ready Iowa strategic plan.”
Swenson said more job training and higher credentials can help — but Iowa mostly needs more people.
“Everything that the governor’s office said that it’s trying to do to ready up the workforce, that’s all fine and good, but we need warm bodies and these warm bodies, they’ve got to come from someplace else,” he said.
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