SUSAN GALLAGHER Associated Press Writer HELENA
Jobs are plentiful in Montana and wages have risen, but they remain low compared to pay in other states, an economist said Tuesday after state government’s annual Labor Day Report on employment went to the governor. Wages increased 5 percent from 2005 to 2006 and among the states, Montana rose from 50th to 49th in wage rankings, ahead of South Dakota, said Brad Eldredge, chief economist in the Montana Department of Labor and Industry. “To move up in rankings requires a tremendous amount of economic growth,” Eldredge said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but we’re not going to be in the middle of the pack overnight.” S t a t e La b o r a n d I n d u s t r y Commissioner Keith Kelly described Montana as “on the move.” The 5 percent increase in pay is the largest in 10 years and meant the average annual wage for a Montana job covered by unemployment insurance went from $29,155 to $30,606, the labor department said. Economists said Montana has conditions conducive to sustained economic growth, but cont inued expansion requires attracting and training workers. Reports of labor shortages have come from employers in various parts of Montana. The labor-supply question is tied largely to demographics, Eldredge said. “Baby boomers are retiring and the generation immediately following isn’t quite as big,” he said. “It’s particularly acute in Montana. We’re one of the oldest states in the nation.” Drawing workers older than 55, helping people who have not completed their high school education to get more training and recruiting American Indian workers may be ways for businesses to address labor shortages, the Labor Day Report noted. It says construction work in Montana continued to grow briskly last year, well ahead of the national rate. Other wellpaying fields with strong growth included mining. American Indian reservations have seen some of Montana’s most persistent unemployment, but five of the state’s seven saw stronger employment last year, according to the report. The strongest growth occurred on the Crow reservation, with more than 200 new jobs. Most of those resulted from expansion of tribal government , Eldredge said. The opening of a casino helped employment on the Blackfeet reservation, he said.