Utah’s unemployment rate creeps up, but, at 4.3%, it remains well below the nation’s 6.7%

State is urging workers to go after jobs less affected buy COVID-19 cuts.

Utah’s employment outlook during the pandemic continued to outperform the rest of the country last month, with a jobless rate of 4.3%.

That ticked up slightly from 4.1% in October but remained well below the national rate for November of 6.7%, as reported by the Department of Labor. That U.S. jobless rate, meanwhile, dipped last month from October’s 6.9%.

Utah now has the sixth lowest jobless rate in the country, behind Nebraska (3.1%), Vermont (3.1%), South Dakota (3.5%), Iowa (3.6%) and New Hampshire (3.8%), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Nationally, the economy added 344,000 private-sector jobs but lost significant ground to COVID-19-related disruptions in the retail and hospitality industries and to workers pulling out of the labor force due to rising cases, the Labor Department said.

Nearly 70,900 Utahns were out of work last month, according to the state Department of Workforce Services, while half the state’s 10 major private sectors gained jobs.

Mark Knold, chief economist at the department, said in a statement Friday that Utah’s labor markets continued to improve gradually from their spring lows with thousands of new openings in several industries.

Knold said the state’s economy had proved to be “one of the nation’s best in reemploying workers” as officials continued to actively encourage those drawing unemployment benefits to seek work in sectors less damaged by the pandemic.

Improvements have slowed in the past few months, he said, partly due to seasonal job losses.

New weekly jobless claims in the Beehive State — an indicator of ongoing job disruptions — are still nearly four times higher last week than during peak weeks of the Great Recession.

The state reported Thursday 4,386 residents filed for assistance the week ending Dec. 12. New weekly claims have hovered in that range for four months, after steady declines from their early April high of 33,000.

“It is certainly starting to plateau,” said Kevin Burt, executive director of the Utah’s unemployment insurance system.

Nearly 26,400 Utahns are currently filing claims week to week for jobless aid, according to the state.

Some 2,136 of those applicants are independent contractors and self-employed, who are getting unemployment for the first time under a federal aid program that is set to expire the day after Christmas.

Another 6,932 of those relying on continuing benefits are on 13 weeks of extended aid after exhausting traditional state unemployment. That federal program, too, will go away later this month, without an extension from Congress.

Burt said that while ongoing negotiations in Washington may still yield a deal to fund those benefits into the new year, state officials are urging those receiving aid to step up their search for other jobs.

“Regardless of the outcome [in Congress,]” he said, “there is simply not stability in the unemployment benefit. The best option is for individuals to actively look for work.”

Leisure and hospitality led November’s employment losses in Utah, erasing 19,300 positions. Professional and business services, information technology, education and health, and mining all lost jobs as well.

Friday’s state jobs report said the trade, transportation and utilities sector in Utah added nearly 10,700 jobs last month, while construction grew by 5,200. The financial industry, manufacturing and other services also gained employment.