Utah unemployment dips below 2% for 1st time as labor becomes 'precious commodity'

The Department of Workforce Services in Taylorsville is pictured on April 15, 2021. Utah's unemployment rate hit a record-low of 1.9% in April, according to a report issued Friday.

The Department of Workforce Services in Taylorsville is pictured on April 15, 2021. Utah's unemployment rate hit a record-low of 1.9% in April, according to a report issued Friday. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah labor officials reported Friday that the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped to a record-low of 1.9% in April after steadily staying at 2% for months.

Mark Knold, the chief economist for the Department of Workforce Services, said the report offers all indications that Utah's economy is still recovering well from the constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic beginning two years ago. He believes those impacts are now in the "rearview mirror" because Utah is one of 11 states with more jobs now than before the pandemic.

"Job creation is still forward as fast as the labor supply will allow," he said, in a prerecorded message released Friday. "Utah is at the top of state-level economic performance."

The state's rate had fallen to about 2.5% in March 2020 before spiking to about 10% in the following month. It's been on a slow decline ever since, returning to 2.5% again in September 2021 before dropping to new record lows beginning in December. There are currently about 33,000 Utahns listed as unemployed.

The national rate is 3.6%.

The report also leaves economists wondering how low can the rate go? Utah's current unemployment rate means that it's already difficult to find new labor and it will become increasingly difficult as it drops to all-time lows. Knold warns new challenges may soon emerge in the state's economy.

"Readily available labor is a precious commodity right now," he said.

His warning comes with a caveat, though. There aren't any indications that the record-low unemployment rates will slow down the state's economy anytime soon, according to the report. Utah has gained 62,400 jobs over the past year, a nonfarm payroll employment increase of 3.9% that is bumping the state's total number of jobs up to 1,664,800 total jobs statewide.

Knold explained Utah's youth is getting older and more people are moving into the Beehive State, which helps find new labor while other states struggle. The state is in line for two decades more of "aging in" as opposed to "aging out," too. This is what he calls the "foundational platform" for Utah's ongoing economic success.

"The strong economy draws in workers. New workers keep the economy strong and growing," he continued. "That strength and growth draw in more workers, and the cycle comes entrenched and perpetuates until some exogenous factor rises to interrupt it like a pandemic did for most of 2020."

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox touted the report Friday, tweeting that his office is "proud of the hard-working Utahns who contribute to the most robust economy in the nation."

Meanwhile, the overall U.S. economy is also not sending any troubling signals at the moment, Knold also pointed out Friday. That could change if high inflation continues to impact the country.

Cox said during his monthly press briefing Thursday that Utah's "diverse economy" is helping Utahns with record inflation but a recession would still impact the state. When asked about the U.S. Federal Reserve's recent plan to increase interest rates to slow down inflation, he said the federal government is "on the right path."

"Sadly, they took too long to get there," he said. "It's been exacerbated by other federal policies that shouldn't have gotten us this far. We've pushed back on some of what I believe is reckless spending and unnecessary spending by the Biden administration that has added at least two or three (percentage) points ... to inflation."

The governor added he's hopeful the U.S. economy doesn't run into a recession but that the state's so-called rainy days funds are full now as ever before just in case.

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Utah governmentUtahBusinessPolitics
Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.


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