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Gianforte touts jobs, wage growth as reaching his comeback goal

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Greg Gianforte

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte talks during a Mansfield Dialogue at the University of Montana on April 12.

Gov. Greg Gianforte this week announced that Montana surpassed his goal for job creation in 2021, citing a state labor department analysis that found nearly 13,000 jobs with salaries of at least $50,000 were added last year.

Last year, the Republican announced the goal of 10,000 new jobs paying that much as a benchmark he would use to measure the success of his economic policy priorities as the state’s new governor.

In a Wednesday press release, his office said that a state Department of Labor and Industry analysis found the state now had more than 145,000 jobs above that $50,000 salary threshold by the end of 2021.

“We’re just getting started, and we’ll stay focused on creating more good-paying jobs and greater opportunity for all Montanans,” Gianforte stated.

He credited the increase to Republican policies that his administration and the GOP-dominated Legislature has pursued since he took office. But economists say that national trends have been the real driver in the state’s labor market. Individual policies might be correlated with that growth, but it’s much harder to say whether they caused it.

"I think it's very difficult to parse those things out," Montana State University economics professor Christiana Stoddard said Thursday. "If Montana was doing the same as the nation we would see what we have seen, or maybe even a little bit better."

Between a jump in nationwide job growth and median wages rising by about 6% nationally last year, she said she would have expected the state to hit the governor's stated goal unless the state was significantly trailing the national average.

“I would have been shocked if we didn’t hit that number,” Stoddard said. She pointed out there were about 10,000 jobs above $50,000 added in 2019 as well, the final year of Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's administration.

In terms of overall job growth over the past year, Montana is right in the middle of the pack nationally. With a 3.6% increase in employment year-on-year, the state ranked 24th among U.S. states as of June, the most recent month for which the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics has published data.

While wages nationwide have risen sharply in the past year, that growth has been uneven across industries, income brackets and geography. According to one measure, Montana was in the top 20% nationally for average wage increases through 2021, BLS data show.

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