High turnover. Openings unfilled. What the job market is doing to Boise city’s workforce

·3 min read

Idaho’s unemployment numbers have returned to prepandemic levels, and there are more than twice as many job postings as unemployed adults in the state.

The Boise City Council met Tuesday to consider the state of the workforce in the state as a whole and within Boise’s city departments.

“Not only did we come back to level,” said Sarah Borden, director of human resources for the city, “we came back with a whole lot more openings than we had in previous times in previous years.”

Just 22,088 Idahoans were unemployed in December, according to the Idaho Department of Labor. That’s in stark contrast to the start of the pandemic in April 2020, when just over 100,000 people were unemployed.

In fact, the unemployment rate now sits at just 2.4% a historic low for the state, beating the previous record of 2.5% in December 2019.

Meanwhile there were 51,765 job postings in the state in December, coming to 2.3 openings for every unemployed Idahoan.

Right before the pandemic there were just under 30,000 job postings, and for much of 2019 there were fewer job openings than there were unemployed Idahoans.

But with COVID-19 showing no sign of slowing down — Idaho recently recorded the most positive COVID-19 cases within a week-long period since the pandemic started — why is the job market suddenly looking so healthy?

Baby Boomers retiring could be a big reason why, according to Borden.

Boomers already were retiring at a rising rate before the pandemic came along, Borden said. The pandemic “just made it that much more. Things shifted, people were like, ‘I’m going to retire now, now feels like the right time.’”

Baby Boomers are considered to be people born between 1946 and 1964, meaning in 2021 they were between the ages of 57 and 75.

The Boise Police Department has been no stranger to that trend, seeing 16 retirements among sworn personnel in 2021 and 37 since 2019. But in that same time frame the department has sworn in 73 officers, with 37 coming in 2021 alone.

The Boise Police Department has seen 37 retirements since 2019 but has also sworn in 73 new officers.
The Boise Police Department has seen 37 retirements since 2019 but has also sworn in 73 new officers.

“Resignation rates, so people choosing to step out the profession before retirement eligibility, is up 80% nationally,” Chief of Police Ryan Lee said. “Retirement, people that are eligible to retire, is up 45%, nationally. So it is clearly having some impact.”

Lee cited his data came from the Police Executive Research Forum.

How is Boise faring?

Across all of its divisions, the city has 228 total vacancies, for an 8.4% vacancy rate. That’s still above the typical vacancy rate for the city (4-6%), according to Borden, but still sits below the current state government vacancy rate of 12%.

Boise has 1,907 full time employees for fiscal year 2022, not including the 228 vacancies.

The library department has the largest vacancy rate, 24.7%, while the Fire Department has the lowest, a comfortable 2.7%

Boise libraries have the highest vacancy rate in the city at 24.7% while the fire department has the lowest at 2.7%.
Boise libraries have the highest vacancy rate in the city at 24.7% while the fire department has the lowest at 2.7%.

“There’s sort of no department that’s really left untouched by this,” Borden said. “Library is currently looking at different staffing models. They have a fair number of part-time employees.”

Back “several years ago,” according to Borden, the city would get upward of 15,000 applicants per year. In 2021 the city received 8,541 applicants, and in 2020 that number was 6,721.

The city has been struggling to bring in new applicants with COVID-19 cited as a reason why.
The city has been struggling to bring in new applicants with COVID-19 cited as a reason why.

The city also had a turnover rate of 16.1% (282 employees) in 2021. Borden cites COVID-19 as a big reason why the city is seeing these sorts of numbers.

“COVID is really taking a toll on people. A number of people said ‘I need to be home with family, I have health issues in my family, I have mental health issues myself. I just this is just too much I have to step out,’” Borden said. “So there’s a variety of reasons and it’s witnessed here in these numbers.”

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