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Montana avoids brunt of slowdown
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Montana avoids brunt of slowdown

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State merely slips while nation's economy slides

HELENA - Montana's economy may be sleepy, but it's not snoozing as soundly as the nation's, a leading economist said Monday.

The latest monthly report from the state Department of Labor and Industry shows job growth in Montana at 1.7 percent, unemployment below the national average and wages rising faster than inflation.

Not bad, considering what's happening across the country, said Paul Polzin, director for the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

"Given the amount of bad news we hear about the U.S. economy, given the amount of deceleration that the U.S. economy shows, the deceleration here in Montana does not seem to be as bad as it is nationwide," he said. "The conditions here in Montana are nowhere near as gloomy as they are nationwide."

Although economists continue to debate whether the country has undergone a recession or mere slowdown, Polzin said it was a rapid turn of events. The national economy, growing at a 5 percent rate in the last quarter of 2000, has coasted to just a 1 percent pace, he said.

Montana appears to have escaped such a severe slowing because the economic sectors affected at the national level are not very important in this state, especially auto manufacturing and high-tech industries, Polzin said.

"This is definitely a high-tech recession," he said.

Montana also did not feel the brunt of the 1990-91 recession, he added. "Conventional wisdom is that Montana is more recession-prone than the rest of the country. But looking at the last two recessions, that does not appear to be the case."

The Labor Department said Montana had 6,600 more jobs in June than it did a year ago, despite scores of layoffs across the state and the fact that hundreds of census workers are no longer on the federal payroll.

Service jobs - especially business and health services - had the most healthy growth with an increase of 5,300.

The greatest decline came in manufacturing, where 1,300 jobs were lost in the past year. About 700 of those jobs are in the wood products industry. Another 370 jobs were lost at Jore Corp., a tool accessory company at Ronan, and 238 jobs at the ASARCO lead smelter in East Helena.

Financial institutions added 400 jobs since June of last year, and mining was up 300 jobs to buck a generally declining trend for the last few years.

The department also said that the average weekly earnings of Montanans increased 3.6 percent to $398.38. The growth was slightly ahead of the 3.2 percent inflation rate.

The unemployment rate for June was 4 percent, compared with a 4.7 percent national average. The rate means 19,300 Montanans were out of work, or 3,600 fewer than in June of last year.

Counties with the worst jobless rates were Big Horn, 16.7 percent; Glacier, 9.8 percent; Lincoln, 9 percent; Lake, 8 percent; and Deer Lodge, 6.8 percent.

The lowest county unemployment rates were Petroleum, 0.5 percent; Powder River, 1.1 percent; Garfield and Wibaux, 1.4 percent; and McCone and Sweet Grass, 1.5 percent.

Among the most-populous counties, Ravalli had the highest unemployment rate at 5 percent, followed by Fergus, 4.8 percent; Flathead and Silver Bow, 4.7 percent; Cascade, 4.4 percent; Lewis and Clark, 4.3 percent; Hill, 4.1 percent; Missoula, 3.3 percent; Park, 3.2 percent; Yellowstone, 3.1 percent; Custer, 2.8 percent; and Gallatin, 2 percent.

Jobless rates, by county

Flathead…..4.7

Lake…..8

Lincoln…..9

Missoula…..3.3

Ravalli…..5

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