he number of Utahns seeking first-time jobless benefits last week fell to the lowest level in almost four years, suggesting the pace of layoffs is slowing down as the state’s recovery moves slowly forward.
Applications for jobless benefits fell to 1,473 last week, down 152 from the previous seven-day period, the Department of Workforce Services said Thursday. The less volatile four-week moving average dropped by 31 claims, to 1,718,
The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose last week, although the data probably were skewed higher by seasonal factors.
Although the decline in Utah wasn’t very big, the number of new applications was the smallest since the week of Sept. 6, 2008, when the recession was less than a year old and the financial crisis was raging.
Weekly unemployment claims are a measure of layoffs, said Mark Knold, the department’s chief economist.
“You are not seeing an economy operating to a large degree anymore with job losses, with contractions, pushing people out the door,” Knold said.
Still, it’s not likely that first-time claims will retreat to levels posted before the recession, when Utah’s economy was booming and claim numbers often didn’t reach 1,000 statewide in a week.
“These [latest figures] are not the same levels as prior to the recession, but I don’t think you have to get the claims that low to believe the economy is heading toward full recovery,” Knold said.
In one sense, the latest count is an anomaly. Because layoffs normally rise as the weather cools, Knold won’t be surprised if claim numbers rise in coming weeks. What he will be looking for, however, is whether first-time claim numbers are lower than in the same weeks of 2011.
Nationally, weekly applications increased by 8,000, to a seasonally adjusted 365,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the sixth straight week, to 365,500, the lowest since March 31.
The decline in the four-week average suggests the U.S. job market could be improving a bit. But economists are viewing last month’s figures with some caution because the government struggles every July to account for temporary summer shutdowns in the auto industry. This year was even more complicated because some automakers skipped the shutdowns, resulting in fewer layoffs.