Montana Public Radio

Montana Economic Slowdown Expected, Researchers Say

Jan 28, 2020

Montana saw wage growth in 2019, but an economic slowdown is expected in coming years, according to University of Montana researchers. The Bureau of Business and Economic Research released its annual outlook Tuesday in Helena.

Patrick Barkey, Director of the Economic Research Bureau says Montana’s workforce and economy face new challenges, but have good recent momentum.

The new BBER report gives an overview of the state’s economic outlook through the lense of growth of nonfarm earnings in Montana. Those earnings grew 2.7 percent in 2019, a tick above initial expectations.

Barkey highlighted Montana’s tight labor market, the narrow window between the number of open jobs and the unemployed workers around to fill them.

“It’s been a good thing for workers. Having lots of jobs available has helped push up wages. And that is really fueling part of this prosperity in the U.S. and the Montana economy,” Barkey says.

Patrick Barkey, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
Credit Courtesy UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research

But Barkey says unemployment rates are an inadequate measure of labor market health. He says a tight labor market is making it more difficult for businesses to find good workers.

BBER’s economic outlook says recent growth in wages tilts to the west and southwest areas of the state. The report says some of the largest recent wage gains were Park and Gallatin county, at 7.1 and 6.5 percent, respectively.

In comparison, Yellowstone and Flathead counties saw comparatively low wage growth at around half a percent.

Barkey says it’s unclear if the nationwide economic expansion seen since the end of the last recession will soon come to an end.

But he adds, “We’re gonna see a fairly significant slowdown in the state economy as we go forward.”

That means earnings could still grow in the state, but the report says the rate of that growth will be much slower.

According to data from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Montana’s personal income growth since the end of the Great Recession is above the national average.