Workforce participation rate goes up for 5th straight month

DES MOINES — The state unemployment rate held steady at 2.7% for the third straight month in July. Iowa Workforce Development spokesperson Jesse Dougherty says the number of people entering the workforce continues to increase.

“Went up for the fifth straight month to 68.8%, and so that actually equals the same participation rate that we saw that we had in March 2020,” he says. And so that was a significant number for us.” He says the workforce participation rate has steadily worked its way back since the pandemic. “The labor force as a whole did surpass the pandemic levels in terms of broad numbers that had already happened. But this is the first time in over three years that the actual percentage of Iowans who are working or are actively looking for work has now reached back up to the level that it was. So that was a significant number for us,” Dougherty says.

Some economists say they see concern among businesses about ongoing inflation and the state of the national economy. Dougherty says that is an issue in Iowa as well. “That’s impacting some employers in Iowa, particularly some, industries, like professional business services, leisure and hospitality, and some others,” Dougherty says. “And so I think, you know, there’s a lot of reason, you know, to be optimistic about the foundation in Iowa, what we have as far as the labor force. So that’s the positive, but I think we are seeing that that same sort of apprehension, that’s something we’re going to be watching really closely the rest of this year.”

The service industries saw some losses in July. “That was primarily driven by accommodation and food services, that was 2,000 of that 2,200 loss. So really, what we’re seeing there is driven by a lot of, you know, restaurants and related establishments that are reining in on employment,” he says. “And some of that is, likely due to kind of the summer months changing a little bit or, but also, I think it’s a little bit also that apprehension from employers, you know, in terms of their future plans.” Total nonfarm employment has gained 14,400 jobs since last year. Education and health care gained the bulk of those jobs.