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Jobless rate a bit lower

Modest growth in most categories last month

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Deseret Morning News graphic

Utah's jobless rate crept lower in December, with modest job gains in every category except high technology.

The state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for December was 4.4 percent, down from 4.6 percent in November. About 53,700 Utahns were unemployed last month, compared to the same month a year ago. In December 2003, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent.

"We're not blowing the doors off, but we're not suffering job losses, either," said Austin Sargent, economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "The positive thing is that we're seeing expansion across all categories."

Economists predicted that high energy costs would affect job growth — which is likely what happened in November and December, Sargent wrote in the department's report.

"The state's rate of employment growth has started to moderate slightly. This brings no cause for concern, as we anticipated that this would happen," he wrote. "Currently, energy prices have fallen from their recent peak, but in the November and December period, they were at their peak and influencing the psychology of that time."

The Utah economy added about 30,700 jobs, at a growth rate of 2.8 percent, from December 2003 to December 2004, the department reported.

Sargent predicted that employment growth in Utah will remain at or near current levels for the next several months. However, he said, the summer months should bring stronger growth.

Trade, transportation and utilities added 5,400 jobs from December 2003 to December 2004, while education and health brought on 5,100 new workers.

The construction industry reported a somewhat surprising 7.1 percent job growth rate, adding about 4,900 jobs. Professional and business services also reported growth, adding 3,800 jobs.

The category upon which economists are keeping the closest tabs remained stubbornly at zero growth, however. Information technology reported no job growth during the year-over period. But Sargent said the department expects the IT industry to improve — if slowly — this year.

"We suspect we'll start to see it improve, slowly initially, as new technology and the need for capital and equipment replacement kicks in," Sargent said. "We expect to see it pick up. It might not be a huge amount of growth, but we expect to see it turn positive, instead of sitting at zero or in the negative."

Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the national unemployment rate held at 5.4 percent in December. Employers nationwide expanded their payrolls by a net 157,000 jobs in December, the department said. For the year 2004, the average unemployment rate was 5.5 percent.

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com