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Jobless rate jumps in Utah

Unemployment hits 5.2%, nearing a 10-year state high

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The number of unemployed Utahns climbed to a near 10-year high as the state's jobless rate hit 5.2 percent in December, up from November's 4.4 percent.

Nearly 60,000 Utahns found themselves jobless in December, a 65 percent increase from a year earlier when the unemployment rate hovered near historic lows at 3.2 percent, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services report.

"Construction is down considerably. So is manufacturing," said Ken Jensen, senior economist for the department.

In fact, manufacturing accounted for 3,500 job losses in the state, with 14 percent of those losses stemming from Geneva Steel's shutdown.

The construction industry also continued to take a hit as 2,500 jobs were lost in December compared to the same month a year ago.

The nation's unemployment rate also increased in December to 5.8 percent, the highest in more than six years, as declines continued in manufacturing, retail and air transportation.

Roughly 124,000 jobs across the country were cut in December, according to the Labor Department report, down considerably from the 400,000 jobs lost in November.

Some suggest the apparent slowing in job losses nationally indicates a "bottoming out" in layoffs.

"I think that is kind of wishful thinking," Jensen said, adding that he expects Utah's jobless rate for this year's first quarter to continue to worsen.

"Last week the sick guy lost 10 pounds and this week the sick guy lost only three pounds and so maybe he's getting better? He didn't lose as much, but that doesn't mean he's getting better."

In the past couple years, Utah has witnessed record low unemployment rates, particularly in March 1997 when the jobless rate hit a historic low of 2.9 percent.

Despite the state's rising jobless ranks, non-farm job growth in Utah rose a dismal 0.4 percent in December. Most of that new growth occurred in the finance, insurance and real estate sector, where 2,400 new jobs were added year over year.

Trailing the financial services industry was an increase in new government jobs in Utah, where some 5,700 people were added to local, state and federal payrolls, a 3 percent increase from last year.

E-MAIL: danderton@desnews.com