GREAT FALLS — Montana's unemployment rate rose slightly in May, but workers may be benefiting from higher wages due to a tight labor market, the state Department of Labor reported.
Unemployment was 3.8 percent last month, up from 3.6 percent in April, agency figures show. In May 2005, unemployment was reported at 4.1 percent statewide.
Sweet Grass County had the state's lowest unemployment rate last month at 1.5 percent, followed by Fallon County at 2.3 percent and Golden Valley County at 2.5 percent, figures show. The highest rate was in Lincoln County, at 6.1 percent.
Among the state's most populous areas, Gallatin County continued to have the lowest level of unemployment at 2.7 percent in May, down from 2.9 percent a year earlier, figures show.
Yellowstone County's rate drops
Yellowstone County's jobless rate was 2.8 percent, down from 3 percent in May 2005, while Cascade County reported 3.4 percent unemployment last month, Lewis and Clark County 3.2 percent and Missoula County 3.1 percent.
A state official said the tight labor market is resulting in higher wages for workers.
"Average wages in Montana grew by 4.8 percent in 2005," said Keith Kelly, the state labor commissioner. "Given that inflation was only 3.4 percent during this time, the standard of living for the average Montanan is getting better."
Labor officials reported a slight drop in seasonally adjusted employment from the previous month, although several sectors experienced increases.
Education, health lead way
Education and health services reported the largest gain, adding 300 new jobs in May. Natural resources and mining, as well as a sector called other services, each added 200 jobs, and information jobs grew by 100 last month.
Job losses occurred in a number of areas, but were led by a drop of 700 jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector last month, a time when the industry is often gearing up for the summer tourism season.
Officials said losses of up to several hundred jobs in a particular sector may be due to statistical quirks, rather than a meaningful change in employment levels.
"I think what we are picking up (in leisure and hospitality) are the ski resorts dropping out," said Tyler Turner, an economist with the Labor Department. "We didn't pick them up in April because they ended a little bit later than when we gather our numbers."