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'Wages will go up': After announcing end to a pandemic stimulus, Utah Gov. Cox promises economic improvement

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks during a briefing on COVID-19 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 29, 2021.

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News file)

SALT LAKE CITY — After Utah Gov. Spencer Cox announced this week he will end the state's participation in a federal COVID-19 pandemic unemployment stimulus program next month, he promised that the state's economy will remain in excellent shape.

He made the decision to discontinue the benefits based on recent job growth and a low unemployment rate in Utah. The governor guaranteed that Utah's economy will remain healthy as the year continues.

"I promise you that Utah's economy right now will be better than the nation's economy in September when you look at unemployment rates and job availability and all of those things," Cox said at a Thursday press conference.

The benefits, which include a $300 weekly pandemic stimulus payment, are set to end nationally in September, and Congress has indicated they won't be extended beyond that. Cox decided to discontinue Utah's participation in the program on June 26.

The state has given the 28,000 people who are currently receiving the benefit a "long runway" to prepare for when they end next month, Cox said. It's the right thing to do for everyone in the state right now, he added.

People who qualified for unemployment benefits under pre-pandemic criteria will still be able to receive those benefits after June 26. Cox stressed that the state isn't ending unemployment, it's just going back to normal.

The governor estimated there are currently 50,000-70,000 job openings in Utah. And while some of them pay $7.25 per hour, Utah's minimum wage, many of them are good, higher-paying jobs, Cox said.

He said that the state has many resources available to help people increase their training or education in order to earn a higher wage if they want to do so.

"We have so many services available," Cox said. "Never in the history of our state have we had more services available to help people find work, to help people improve their lot in life, to get additional education."

He added that the state needs to incentivize people to enter the workforce again. He didn't fault people who have decided to remain on unemployment and not work, and said it's a "very rational choice" that most people would make.

"It doesn't take an economist or a rocket scientist to understand that if you pay people to not do something, they're going to do that," Cox said.

Inflation has also recently gone up, and bad monetary policy is partially to blame, the governor added.

The labor market will have to respond to the needs of workers as more people continue to go back into the workforce, Cox said. He has talked to multiple employers across Utah who have increased wages already, he said.

"Wages will go up, there is no question. We're already starting to see that," Cox said. "We want that to happen, and it will happen, and we encourage employers out there to increase wages."

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