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Jobless rate inched up in Utah for March

But work force economist says the rise isn’t a concern

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Utah's jobless rate inched higher in March, but the state's leading work force economist says the increase is "not a concern."

The Utah unemployment rate for March was 5 percent, compared to 4.7 percent in February, according to the state Department of Workforce Services. About 60,500 Utahns were unemployed last month.

"It's not a concern," Mark Knold, senior economist for the DWS, said Tuesday. "It is part of the normal range of movement that can occur when your unemployment rate is generated by a (mathematical) model. So that's part of it.

"Some of it could also be that we have people re-emerging in the labor market, people coming out of the woodwork now that the economy is doing better. In the process of looking for employment, you have to be unemployed before you're employed."

More encouraging was the growth in total employment, Knold said. The year-over increase in the number of non-farm wage and salaried jobs was 1.4 percent, or 14,900 jobs. The professional and business sector led job gains in Utah, adding 4,400 jobs, followed closely by the education and health sector, which added 4,200 jobs. The only category registering job losses was natural resources, which trimmed 200 jobs in March.

"Utah certainly seems to be in growth mode," Knold said. "I'm encouraged by the employment growth we're seeing, and I'm encouraged by Utah's position. The national economy is kind of like a wave you want to get above it and stay above it and ride it, and that's where we are."

The national unemployment rate edged up to 5.7 percent last month from 5.6 percent in February, because more people entered the labor force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Total employment increased by 308,000 jobs.

Though he expects the economy to continue to gain strength in 2004, Knold said the job market is likely to remain stingy for the near term.

"In terms of getting jobs and so on, it's still going to be some work," Knold said. "We created an excess labor pool during the last three years of this downturn, and that doesn't disappear overnight.

"It wasn't just unemployment we were dealing with, but also underemployment. So the market needs time to re-employ, and better-employ, and people out there looking for work need to be prepared for that."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com