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Job growth slows to 1.4%

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Fewer jobs in construction and the mortgage industry contributed to lower job growth in Utah last month, as the number of new positions increased an estimated 1.4 percent in May, compared with a year earlier.

About 17,900 new nonfarm jobs were created in the state's economy over the past year, according to figures released Tuesday by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The number is lower than last month's, indicating the economy continues to cool. Job growth from April 2007 to April 2008 was 1.9 percent.

The state's unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in May, up one-tenth from April's 3.1 percent. About 44,200 Utahns were looking for work in May, compared to 35,000 in May 2007.

The U.S. unemployment rate increased by a half percentage point to 5.5 percent in May.

Construction jobs typically make up about 6 percent of the state's employment, said Mark Knold, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services. In recent years when the state experienced a construction boom, construction's share of state employment had climbed to 9 percent. The number of construction jobs now is 7.7 percent — "and falling," Knold said.

The foreclosure and housing crisis, and related tightening of available credit, began last summer, and by the fall, construction jobs in Utah began to decrease.

"But it wasn't quite as noticeable because in the late fall and winter is when they let a lot of workers go. It's very (seasonal)," Knold said. "Why it's being so exposed now is because the spring rehiring surge isn't happening."

Title, real-estate and mortgage companies also have fewer positions this year.

The effect of housing on the overall economy has caused growth in manufacturing to slow, Knold said. He also expects numbers in the "trade sector," or retail, to also go down, "because trade growth usually follows housing growth," he said. "In addition, the high gas prices are putting a lot of pressures on the consumers to pull back on spending."

For people looking for a job, Knold said some industries are unscathed by the current economic problems.

"You still have some industries that are doing OK: health care, information technology, companies that you'd call life science — they're all looking for more workers."

E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com