Utah’s jobless rate was 2.9% for March, the nation’s lowest

March numbers show the Beehive State has less than half the national rate. They also prove Utah really did add jobs during the pandemic, with COVID-19 vulnerable sectors like hospitality and education damaged but others gaining.

(AP File photo) A help wanted sign at Padeli's Street Greek restaurant, as seen Sept. 10, 2020, in Salt Lake City.

A year on from when COVID-19 first landed hard, Utah cleared March with an economic recovery well ahead of most U.S. states.

New numbers show the Beehive State reached 2.9% unemployment last month, less than half the U.S. average of 6% and officially the nation’s lowest rate, tied with Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont.

Data released Friday also offers further evidence that vaccinations and declining coronavirus case rates may be easing economic havoc wrought by the pandemic, at least in some parts of the U.S., while other portions continue to get slammed.

Twenty-one states saw meaningful drops in their unemployment rates last month, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In places such as New York and Hawaii, though, unemployment is as high as 9%, and the overall U.S. rate of 6% represents nearly 9.7 million people still furloughed or out of work across the country.

In Utah, that number is at least 46,600 residents unemployed. However, that figure is likely far higher, accounting for people who’ve stopped looking for work, often due to workplace health concerns or caregiving demands at home.

According to new state data, some job sectors of the state’s economy continue to sputter or languish in hiring; others can’t find enough workers.

Utah’s overall jobless rate has fallen steadily through the winter and early months of 2021, with sporadic losses in pandemic-vulnerable sectors like hospitality and education largely being made up for by gains in construction and transportation, utilities and trade.

Mark Knold, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said in a news release Friday that March numbers indicated the state’s economy will continue improving “and will gain steam as the year progresses.”

Knold also warned that monthly jobs gains looking forward may look magnified when compared to the same months last year when COVID-19 was ravaging the worst.

“There are still COVID-19 economic setbacks to overcome,” Knold said. “Utah, however, is ahead of the national curve in undergoing economic repair.”

Data released Friday for March does appear to prove one key claim: Utah really did gain jobs overall during the first 12 months of the pandemic, up 0.9% compared to the same time last year. That’s equivalent to about 13,800 jobs, compared to the state’s current employment level of about 1,579,100 workers.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only Idaho can make the same claim, with a 1.3% total jobs changes March over March.

The latest wave of jobs data for Utah shows construction; financial, professional and business services; trade, transport and utility work; and manufacturing added hires in March. Natural resources, leisure and hospitality, and government sectors shed jobs last month.

New data also is sharpening the picture of a heavier impact on jobs, in many cases, for Utah’s rural areas.

Since the pandemic began, most of the state’s employment losses have been, not surprisingly, focused in Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties, where most of the state’s labor force lives, according to a new state analysis.

But tourism-dependent counties such as Grand and Garfield saw a deeply disproportionate hit on their total labor forces, with up to 47% of workers covered by unemployment insurance being thrown out of work since the health crisis began, data reveals.

For Wasatch Front counties, meanwhile, that number has stayed below 23%.