Jul 27, 2022 - News

Utah's strong job market began taking shape decades ago

Illustration of a crowd of workers marching towards a glowing briefcase.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Utah's unemployment rate remains among the nation's lowest — a distinction that goes back decades.

Driving the news: New federal unemployment figures for June show Utah had the third-lowest unemployment rate in the U.S.

  • Just 2% of the state's workers were unemployed, same as in May and just barely up from April's all-time record low of 1.9%.

The big picture: Utah's unemployment rate is almost always below the national average, and has been since state data became available in 1976.

  • It's only risen above national rates twice since then: for a few months in 1987 and again briefly in 2002.
  • Other economic indicators — job growth and personal income growth — also are consistently better than average in Utah, said Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the U's business school.

Context: Utah has a "growth economy," Gochnour said — but a rising population isn't the only reason for that.

  • Utah has a lot of economic diversity, which protects it from ups and downs in individual industries.
  • Some other fast-growing states are more reliant on single industries — like energy in Wyoming and Texas or tourism in Nevada.

Zoom in: The rise of Utah's tech sector was a particularly stabilizing force as Utah entered the pandemic, Gochnour noted.

  • From 2008-2018, when other states were recovering from recession, Utah saw its tech employment grow at more than four times the national average.
  • In 2019, Utah led the nation in job growth.

Flashback: Utah began laying the groundwork for that growth in tech even earlier than that.

  • The state's colleges and universities doubled the number of graduates in engineering and computer science from 2001-2011, Gochnour said.

Bottom line: Utah's consistently healthy job market is also supported by a few lucky breaks, like a young population and good location.


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