Utah’s unemployment fell in August to 4.1%, less than half the national rate

Pandemic-induced unemployment in Utah continued to decline in August, according to a new government report.

After dropping to 4.5% in July — the lowest for that month among all U.S. states and less than half of the national rate — the state’s jobless number fell again to 4.1%, the Labor Department reported Friday.

Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

Nebraska’s unemployment rate was 4.0% for August, giving Utah the second lowest rate. But in contrast, tourism-heavy Nevada had the nation’s highest unemployment, at 13.2%, followed by Rhode Island, at 12.8%, and Hawaii and New York, both at 12.5%.

“Utah’s economy continues along its path of improvement,” said Mark Knold, chief economist at the state Department of Workforce Services, which oversees unemployment benefits.

Knold noted that labor demand had improved in particular for Utah’s private sector, which has been more directly vulnerable to a COVID-19 related downturn than government employment. That trend, he said in a statement, “speaks to the energy and prospects within the Utah economy.”

Employment woes nonetheless persisted in August for some Utah industries, particularly leisure and hospitality, which saw more than 26,600 jobs lost in August, the state reported.

The business and professional services sector in Utah also lost about 6,000 jobs in August, while construction led job gains for the month, adding about 8,400 jobs.

Unemployment nationally was at 8.4% for August as nearly 12.6 million Americans remain laid off, furloughed or experiencing pay cuts, the Labor Department said. In Utah, those ongoing unemployment claims are now at about 50,000 per week.

A state-sponsored job fair scheduled for next Thursday will showcase more than 30,000 job openings in Utah, a workforce services spokesman said.

Employment is a key lens on the Beehive State’s broader fortunes in navigating the pandemic. Its jobless rate has improved steadily since an April low of 9.7% as Utah has lifted health restrictions and reopened its economy.

The August rate will also hearten state officials, who last week unveiled a series of key health and economic metrics they intended to use through fall and winter to measure Utah’s success in managing the pandemic.

Along with keeping the state’s case fatality rate from the coronavirus below 1%, their chief goal is to hold unemployment below 4.5%.

Secondary economic goals include lifting consumer confidence to pre-pandemic standards, lower ongoing jobless claims each week to 50,000 and expanding job training programs.

New unemployment claims last week in Utah hit their lowest level yet since the pandemic’s March onslaught, falling to 4,193. Ongoing claims filed by those persistently out of work, meanwhile, were just above the state’s new benchmark for the week ending Sept. 12, at 50,025.

Those ongoing claims have dropped consistently every week from their pandemic peak of 127,532 reached the week ending May 2.