Utah job growth best in the nation; Washington County employment up 4%

Undated stock photo | Photo by Nortonrsx, Getty Images, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Across the board, Utah leads all other states in total job growth with Washington County coming in at seventh compared to other counties throughout the state.

Between December 2018 and December 2019, Washington County’s total nonfarm payroll employment grew by 4%.

While it is a little like comparing apples to oranges when looking at specific county-to-county data, smaller counties that have different economic drivers, such as Wasatch County, rank No.  1 in the state for job growth at 10.2%.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which released the latest data Friday, the Beehive State is number one in total nonfarm payroll employment. Jobs grew by an estimated 3.3%, adding 50,400 jobs to the economy since December 2018.

“Utah culminates 2019 with a resilient and convincing employment picture,” said Mark Knold, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

“The economy continues adding to multiple years of robust job creation,” he added. “This dynamic has carried Utah to its lowest recorded unemployment rate. The job market is humming along at a feverish pace and is absorbing as much labor as possible.”

Illustration courtesy Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Knold said the data indicates that Utah has achieved a goal of positioning itself to have the best job growth across the country and subsequently the lowest unemployment rate at 2.3%.

Although the latest figure on Washington County’s unemployment rate is 2.5%, it’s anticipated to drop to 2.4% when the latest data is released next week.

“This package is a culmination of bouncing out of the Great Recession to build back what was lost and getting to the point of climbing and sitting on top of the mountain,” Knold said. “It’s taken 10 years to get back to this point.”

Utah’s private sector employment grew by 3.7% year-over-year in October with the addition of more than 46,500 positions.

Washington County experienced a 3.8% job growth in its private sector employment.

“Your part of the world generally performs better than the state of Utah as a whole,” Knold said. “With the exception of the Great Recession, Washington County has experienced growth rates higher than the state average.”

It’s not unusual for the county to experience 5-8% job growth.

“You had a bit of catching up to do coming out of the Great Recession, but now it’s back up to 4%, which is better than the statewide average,” Knold said. “Washington County’s numbers are moderating a bit with construction (helping) getting caught up. It seems you are settling in.”

Data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows year-over percentage change for nonfarm jobs from May 2018-May 2019 | Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, St. George News

Statewide, nine of the 10 private sector major industry groups in Utah measured posted net job increases with only the “other services group” adding no net jobs.

The largest private-sector employment increases were in education and health services (12,400 jobs), construction (9,700 jobs) and professional and business services (7,500 jobs).

The fastest employment growth occurred in construction (9.5%), education and health services (6%), and leisure and hospitality services (3.8%).

One primary driving factor for job growth experienced over the past several years throughout the state and especially in Washington County is the influx of new residents.

One of the most significant growth sectors for Washington County was in governmental jobs, which Knold said was probably a result of an increase in education.

“Government largely incorporates education,” Knold added. “Schools which are under the ownership of local government and Dixie State University, which is funded by the state government, would experience growth because of the large number of people moving into Southern Utah.”

Washington County’s state governmental jobs grew by 4% and its local government jobs by 6.2%.

Although no economist claims to have a crystal ball, Knold anticipates job figures to remain steady and strong throughout this year.

“It could weaken a little bit, but I don’t think it will weaken because the economy weakens,” he said. “Job growth could pull back somewhat because we might not be able to sustain the migration rate into this state that we’ve had.”

The caveat, Knold said, is that states function within the national economy which is a barometer of future strengths and weaknesses.

Though the nation, he added, is experiencing a 1.5% job growth and an unemployment rate of 3.5%, the lowest it has been in 50 years, it could be considered “overheated” in terms of the data, but that is not the case currently.

“The U.S. has slowly built its way to this level, which is pretty broad-based and solid,” Knold said. “It’s really hard to point to anything that is a problem area, a bubble that is ready to burst like prior to the Great Recession and issues in the housing market.”

Currently, the economic indicators and reforms to lending practices do not indicate a steep recession anytime soon, he added.

“There really isn’t anything that points to danger on the horizon,” said Knold, who added that Utah, along with Washington County, is doing “very well.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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