Utah’s unemployment rate jumped to 5%, higher than the governor’s goal

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Help wanted signs from around the Salt Lake valley on Friday, July 17, 2020. Utah’s unemployment rate jumped to 5% in September even as many sectors of its economy continue to improve.

Utah’s unemployment rate rose to 5% in September even as many sectors of its pandemic-battered economy continue to rebound.

The national jobless rate fell to 7.9% from the prior month’s rate of 8.4%, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department.

The newly released numbers show that about 82,800 Utahns were out of work last month after the state surrendered roughly 14,800 jobs to the COVID-19 crisis, with particularly heavy losses in leisure and hospitality businesses.

A top state analyst said Friday the uptick from August’s jobless rate of 4.1% also reflected many state residents running out of unemployment benefits and stepping up their efforts to find a new job, boosting the number of people counted in the job market.

“More people are finding work and more people are looking for work,” Mark Knold, chief economist at the state Department of Workforce Services, said in a statement.

The September jobless number blew past a benchmark set last month by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, when he and other state leaders released a new plan prioritizing both public health and economic recovery.

Among its goals: holding the unemployment rate below 4.5% through fall and winter, along with maintaining an overall fatality rate from COVID-19 below 1%.

In a statement issued Thursday by Herbert’s office, the governor said that because the September jump was attributed to previously idled workers now actively seeking employment, “this is a positive sign that Utah’s economy is moving in the right direction with new jobs coming available in different industries.”

“Our priority remains on building consumer confidence and connecting unemployed individuals with the jobs that are available right now,” Herbert said.

The state has also set goals in its plan for widening the availability of job training and keeping ongoing claims for unemployment benefits at fewer than 50,000 per week.

Those ongoing claims stood at 37,570 as of last week, reflecting an aggressive campaign by the state to encourage those laid off or furloughed in the pandemic to seek new employment.

That figure includes about 25,460 Utahns who are drawing traditional state jobless benefits; nearly 3,750 so-called gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed; and another 8,360 residents who are drawing extended benefits after other aid has run out.

State officials have also predicted for weeks that unemployment would begin to rise as winter approached and many seasonal jobs shut down.

Private-sector employment in September was 1.3% below its level at the same time last year, and that’s an improvement from August, when it was down 1.8% from the year before.

“Jobs continue working their way back across nearly all industry sectors; some faster than others,” Knold said.

Hotels, restaurants, bars and other hospitality businesses lost 24,300 jobs in September, the state reported — the steepest losses of any sector. Jobs in education and health services fell by 5,200 and professional and business services lost 4,500 positions.

Of all Utah industries, construction has seen the sharpest rebound from pandemic lows. That sector added 7,500 jobs last month, while the trade, transportation and utilities also gained roughly 6,900 jobs.