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Job growth expected to continue in Utah

Sunrise lights the Salt Lake City skyline as a thick blanket of fog covers the Salt Lake Valley on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.
FILE - Sunrise lights the Salt Lake City skyline as a thick blanket of fog covers the Salt Lake Valley on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's job growth should continue to fuel the state's robust economy — at least for the time being, an analyst says.

With jobs in the Beehive State plentiful and economic expansion on a historic roll, the state is poised to maintain its strong pace of growth and development for the foreseeable future, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. However, the number of jobs being produced is outpacing the number of qualified people available to fill them, explained DWS chief economist Carrie Mayne.

Though it isn't a major issue right now, there could be a time when the demand for workers will eventually overwhelm the supply of individuals that can fill that need.

"It looks like we're matching people up with jobs because we continue to keep the unemployment rate low," she said. "But maybe at some point, our labor force just won't grow at the rate the employers need it to grow."

Mayne said current economic conditions remain quite promising, with no obvious indicators of potential drawbacks. She said virtually every resident who wants a job can find one, but some employers are unable to fill open positions due to lack of available talent.

"When you see a long-term (economic) expansion, the question becomes at what point are we going to exhaust our labor force and not be able to keep up with employer demand," she queried.

She noted that the state's labor force participation rate — the number of people available for work as a percentage of the total Utah working-age population — currently registers at 67.7, meaning just over two-thirds of adults are actively employed. Nationally, the labor participation rate is 63.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Friday, DWS reported the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February fell one-tenth of a percentage point to register at 3.0 percent for the month. The data indicated that an estimated 48,300 Utahns were without work actively looking for employment.

Nationally, the jobless rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point to register at 3.8 percent.

Utah’s nonfarm payroll employment for February 2019 grew by an estimated 2.8 percent, adding 42,400 jobs to the economy year over year. The number of people who are gainfully employed registered at 1,536,300.

“Over the past several years Utah’s economy has enjoyed moderate, sustainable growth,” Mayne said. “February's numbers show a continuation of this trend, with healthy job growth and low unemployment.”

In the private sector, year-over-year employment statewide grew by 3.1 percent — adding 38,500 new jobs, the report stated. All but two of the 10 private sector industry groups measured in the establishment survey posted net job increases during February, with other services showing no change and the construction industry shedding 300 jobs over 12 months.

With so much building occurring in the commercial and residential sectors, Mayne said the slight decline in jobs was primarily weather-related.

"Last year at this same time — in February — was very mild weather," she said. "This year was harsher weather and we had some big snowstorms."

Because of the mild winter last year, construction employment was higher than normal for that time of year, so the number of workers in that sector was down this year due to the less favorable weather conditions, she said.