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Utah’s jobless rate drops again even as state prepares to end $300 payments

At 2.8% in April, Beehive State’s unemployment figure is less than half the 6.1% U.S. rate.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Richard Crippen, center, a veteran looking for work gets help with his resume from Robert Woefley, right, and Amado Gonzales at the Department of Workforce Services center in Clearfield on Friday, May, 14, 2021. Utah’s unemployment rate fell to 2.8% in April, less than half the U.S. rate of 6.1% for the month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Utah’s monthly unemployment rate ticked down again, to 2.8% in April, less than half the national number of 6.1%.

That puts the Beehive State’s economy virtually on a par with its job levels just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. As of April, the typical year-over-year comparisons on employment are skewed, with this spring’s economic rebound matched against surging jobless numbers of last year’s pandemic shutdowns.

“Evaluating this year’s open economy against last year’s partially closed economy does not illuminate Utah’s underlying economic progression,” Mark Knold, economist for the state Department of Workforce Services, said in a statement Friday.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

But compared to this time two years ago, Knold said, Utah’s employment is now 2.3% ahead — meaning it added the same number of jobs in two years equivalent to what it typically adds in only one year.

Knold called that “commendable,” given the wreckage from a year of COVID-19 disruption.

Measured against 2019, eight of 10 private sectors in Utah’s economy have added jobs, with professional and business services and construction leading the way. Jobs in pandemic-battered leisure and hospitality and natural resources have not yet recovered to their April 2019 levels, still down 7,600 and 1,400 jobs, respectively.

Some 46,600 Utahns were unemployed last month, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — the same number it said were out of work in March. That figure was at 50,100 in January and 48,774 in February.

In a separate report, state officials said Thursday that 26,899 residents were receiving unemployment benefits week to week, down from about 32,000 in January.

Gov. Spencer Cox announced earlier this month that Utah will discontinue a $300 federal pandemic-related stipend being paid out on top of traditional unemployment benefits, pegging the move to Utah’s low jobless rate.

Though those $300 weekly payments are funded by Congress through September, Cox said they will instead end June 26 in Utah. At least 22 states are making a similar move.

Utah’s Republican governor has called eliminating the added assistance “the natural next step in getting the state and people’s lives back to normal,” airing concerns shared with other GOP leaders that the payments gave some workers a disincentive to return to the labor force.

Supporters of the stipend say the emergency aid is instead providing a temporary lifeline to workers as they search for new positions and return to the workplace.

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