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Utah’s jobless rate drops to 3.1%

Utah’s unemployment rate fell to 3.1% in January, further evidence of the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Beehive State’s jobless rate continued to hover at about half the national average, which was 6.3% in January. Unemployment in Utah dropped last month from 3.6% in December — a month when it had appeared to reverse all job losses for 2020.

New numbers released Wednesday indicate the state instead wound up slightly down on jobs, by 0.6%, for a year hobbled by COVID-19 and associated lockdowns.

State analysts now estimate that 50,100 Utahns were unemployed last month, far more than the 32,760 that officials report are drawing state unemployment benefits.

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said Utah’s private sector has returned to a growth pattern in jobs but that slippage in government employment, particularly in eduction, was “curbing the overall picture.”

“The winter months have decelerated but not stopped the Utah economic recovery,” Knold said in a news release.

January, in fact, brought a 0.3% expansion in private-sector employment in the state compared to the same month last year, the latest report shows, with professional and business services leading the way by adding 9,900 jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities also gained 8,100 positions last month, the Department of Workforce Services reported, and the financial sector grew by 4,100 jobs.

In contrast, Utah’s leisure and hospitality sector — among the hardest hit in the pandemic — shed 12,400 jobs last month. Government was down 11,400 positions, while education and health care lost 7,600 and information technology gave up 1,500 jobs.

Utah’s overall jobless rate masks hardship felt in many of its rural counties and those with economies more reliant on tourism.

Employment in Summit County was down 12.6% in January, compared to the same month in 2020, while San Juan County jobs were down 9.2% and employment in Duchesne County was off by 6.8% year over year.

Salt Lake County employment fell by 1.6%, while other Wasatch Front counties were mixed: Davis, up 1.4%; Weber, down 0.8%; Tooele, up 1.7%, and in Utah County, jobs were up 2.7%.

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