Jobs—good news and bad news

Montana State Roundup

Published July 1, 2003  | July 2003 issue

If you are qualified for a job in Montana, chances are you will be hired, but you may not be paid a lot. Two recent studies provide that good news-bad news scenario.

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Center for Workforce Preparation study reports that finding qualified workers in the state is a critical issue. Over 50 percent of employers surveyed said that finding qualified applicants is either hard or very hard. Montana is not alone there, as similar numbers were recorded nationally among the survey's 3,700 respondents.

But the Chamber study also noted that Montana lags the nation in workforce training. Nationally, 7 percent of companies offered no training to their employees over the past year; that figure was 25 percent for Montana. The state provides a workforce development system that includes the Workforce Investment Board, the Job Service, the Montana Job Training Partnership and the Department of Labor and Industry. Nonetheless, 45 percent of surveyed Montana employers perceive these programs as social welfare, not economic development, efforts.

In another report, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicated that the 2002 average income in Montana grew faster than in every other state but North Dakota—4.3 percent vs. 4.6 percent. (The national growth rate was 1.7 percent.) That said, Montana still ranked 45th in per capita income among all states, unchanged from 2001. A Montana resident had an average income of $25,020 in 2002, compared with $24,044 the previous year.

According to Paul Polzin, director of the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in the short term Montanans' income growth outperformed the nation because the rest of the country suffered from the economic downturn. But he added that Montana made up no ground on other states because it is so far down the income ladder. He attributed the low average income to low wages, a lack of metropolitan areas and a small population scattered over a large area.

Polzin did offer a positive note: Net earnings climbed 5.3 percent last year, third in the nation, and more of the state's major industries contributed to the income growth.

Kathy Cobb