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Jobs might be on the rise, but so is the need for food

POCATELLO, Idaho - These days, as soon as food hits the shelves of the Idaho Food Bank, it leaves just as quickly.

"We are not a food storage," Idaho Food Bank Eastern Idaho branch manager Rebecca Ristrem said. "Eastern Idaho has had a lot of layoffs. I have seen individuals who have come in that have allowed people to move into their homes and then they get laid off."

She said during the holiday season, the food bank expected to hand out 700 turkey boxes, but this year, that number grew to 920. According to Ristrem, that's nearly 5,000 people who needed a holiday meal, standing in the freezing, cold weather, many without jackets or shoes.

She said, the line extended past the brewery down the street.

"It was a good half-mile long."

This year, Ristrem said they hand out an average of 3,000 pounds of food each month in Pocatello, which is up from the 2,200 pound average from the previous year.

Regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor Dan Cravens said the number of jobs are on the rise, and the dept. is noticing less people needing to utilize the agency's services.

"We are seeing less unemployment claims as well, so that would be an indicator there is less unemployment out there," Cravens said.

Which, seems like a good thing, so where is this discrepancy stemming from?

Cravens said just because we're seeing more jobs, that doesn't necessarily mean we're seeing higher-paying jobs.

"They are working, but they're not working at the same level as they were a few years ago," Cravens said. "They've already made commitments with car loans, home loans, or rent, where they still have to pay out the same amount of money as before."

So, while the decrease in salary for many could be a factor, Cravens also mentioned that some workers are seeing their hours cut as well, although this isn't as prevalent.

Ristrem said even the backpack program is also noticing an increase, now giving out about 500 backpack meals each week to the students just in the D25 school district, which is up from the 400 it gave out this past year.

She said, this still isn't enough, and many kids have to use that one meal to feed their families over the weekends.

Ristrem also mentioned the Heinz plant donates about 250,000 pounds of food to the food bank each year, but that will cease as soon as the plant closes.

Cravens also mentioned Bannock County's unemployment level sits at 5.2% which falls below the state's 5.3% unemployment.

He also mentioned, we still have not yet caught up to the employment levels with higher-paying jobs we saw in 2007, but we will keep seeing a steady increase.

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