Salt Lake now has the lowest unemployment in the nation among large metro areas

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A job fair hosted by Catholic Community Services at the Weigand Center in Salt Lake City on Aug. 21, 2018.

Salt Lake City now has the lowest unemployment rate among the nation’s 51 largest metro areas, which each have populations greater than 1 million.

The rate was a low 2.0% in September, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national unemployment rate was 3.3%. The highest unemployment among the nation’s largest metro areas was in New Orleans, at 4.3%.

Mark Knold, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said that comes after five years of typically above-average job growth in the state, with Utah often ranking among the top five states for that in the period. It currently is at No. 3 in that measure.

“If you’re going to be the top performing state economy in the nation, it makes a lot of sense that the heart and soul of your state — which is the Salt Lake City metro area — is going to be the place where the best performance is going to be,” Knold said.

Obviously it is a great time to be looking for a job.

“When the unemployment rate goes very low like this, then the job seekers are in a good position to either find employment or find better employment,” Knold said.

But competition for jobs has led to higher wages here only recently.

“It's only been in the last two or three years or so where we've really seen the wage gains responding to this very tight labor market,” Knold said.

Of course, the low rates means some employers struggle to find enough workers. But Knold said that continuing job growth here suggests “they are finding what they are looking for.”

The low unemployment here also has led to more in-migration from outsiders seeking work.

“We saw that pick up about three years ago,” Knold said. “About 2016, we were thinking we had reemployed the local population that had been displaced because of the Great Recession. We were thinking if we’re going to keep up with the average to above-average job growth, it’s going to have to come from in-migration from out of the state. And that’s what’s happened.”

Data released Wednesday said 13,629 residents in the Salt Lake metro area were still seeking work.

Some smaller metro areas in Utah had even lower unemployment rates last month — 1.7% in Logan and 1.9% in Provo-Orem. Like in the Salt Lake metro area, the unemployment rate was 1.0% in Ogden-Clearfield. It was 2.3% in St. George, according to the new data.

Unemployment rates were lower in September than a year earlier in 254 of the nation’s 389 metropolitan areas. It was higher in 104 areas, and unchanged in 31.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also released data Wednesday about job growth in metro areas.

In the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, it said the number of new jobs grew in the Salt Lake metro area by 2.4% or 17,500 jobs.

Elsewhere in the state, Ogden-Clearfield was up 4.3% or 11,400 jobs; St. George saw 3.7% growth, up by 2,600 jobs; Logan was up by 2.5% or 1,600 jobs; and Provo-Orem was up by 1.5% or 4,100 jobs.