Utah’s jobless rate for April was a bleak 9.7% — though not as bad as other states

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Paletti, a women's clothier in Millcreek, closed and empty on Tuesday, April 7, 2020.

Utah’s unemployment rate rose to 9.7% in April, state economists said Friday, with as many as 155,800 state residents thrown out of work during the pandemic.

In the first solid measure of COVID-19’s economic hit, that jobless rate, while sharply worse from even two months ago, is still well below the national unemployment rate of 14.7% — a clear indication that Utah is faring better than the U.S. as a whole.

“Utah’s strong economy preceding this pandemic offered more cushion against disruption than seen across the rest of the country, thus Utah’s more moderate setback,” said Mark Knold, chief economist at the state Department of Workforce Services.

Hospitality-focused Nevada saw its jobless rate climb to 28.2%, the highest in the country, according to numbers released separately Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Close behind were manufacturing powerhouse Michigan, at 22.7%, and tourism destination Hawaii, at 22.3%.

Including Utah, a total of 27 states and the District of Columbia had unemployment rates below the U.S. average for April, while 10 states were higher and 13 states were roughly the same, the bureau reported.

Utah’s jobless rate ranked sixth lowest in the country, numbers show. Connecticut, Minnesota and Nebraska had the lowest jobless rates, at 7.9%, 8.1% and 8.3%, respectively.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gary Herbert made what he called “a bold prediction," as the state released its new policy road map for easing out of the crisis: that fundamentals in Utah’s economy remained strong compared to the rest of the U.S. — and that its recovery could take hold in a matter of months.

Knold, with Workforce Services, noted that large numbers of idled workers in Utah have been furloughed rather than laid off due to the crisis and expect to return to their jobs when that is possible.

The state estimates that nearly 70% of Utahns who’ve lost work hours since mid-March remain “job attached,” meaning they view their situation as temporary and expect to return to work.

And a state jobs report issued Thursday showed that nearly 10,759 residents have dropped their unemployment claims in recent weeks, as the state continues to lift COVID-19-related restrictions and open portions of its economy.

An expert at Salt Lake City-based Zions Bank said Friday that billions of dollars of federal COVID-19 relief to small businesses have also helped stanch employment losses.

The bank’s senior economist, Robert Spendlove, estimated that nearly 350,000 jobs in the state have been saved by Paycheck Protection loans.

Data from Zions Bank indicates those loans — which are forgivable when used for payroll, mortgage payments and related expenses — shielded more than a fifth of the state’s total workforce from job losses, particularly in construction, health care, food services, retail and manufacturing, Spendlove said. The Salt Lake Tribune received one of these loans through Zions Bank.

Nonetheless, Workforce Services reported that overall, private-sector employment shrank in April by 8.1%, declining in eight of 10 major industries.

Losses were heaviest in leisure and hospitality, down 66,700 jobs; trade, transportation and utilities, down 15,400; and education and health services, down 8,800, it said. Only the construction and information technology sectors gained slightly in April, at 3,400 and 500 jobs, respectively.

On a percentage basis, jobs at restaurants, bars and hotels; in motion picture and sound recording; in employment services; and in air transportation all took devastating double-digit blows, data shows.

Rural counties with portions of their economies centered to tourism also saw heavy employment losses, led by Garfield (-19.4%), Grand (-18.6%), Summit (-18.3%) and Kane (-17.4%).

Salt Lake County’s employment fell by 7.6%, according to Friday’s report, while Davis County was down 7.2%, Weber by 6.9% and Utah County by 6.4%.