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Front Page » June 16, 2005 » Local News » DWS Report Analyzes Carbon Demographic, Economic Data
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DWS Report Analyzes Carbon Demographic, Economic Data

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Carbon County continues to battle to recover from a contracting coal mining industry and the lingering impacts of a nationwide recession.

Employment in Carbon County decreased in 2003 and the local jobless rate climbed to an annual average of 7.8 percent, indicated the latest demographic and economic data report compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

In a negative sense, the turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s prepared Carbon County for the bust of the early 1980s, pointed out department of workforce services regional economist Michael Hanni.

Nearly 25,000 people called Carbon County home in 1982. But by decade's end, the number dropped by roughly 5,000 residents as the population in the county sunk to 20,000.

Net out migration, prompted by the faltering local economy, carried over into the 1990s.

Carbon County's population has started to stabilized, explained the DWS regional economist.

From 1990 and 2000, the number of local residents increased by 1 percent for the slowest rate in Utah.

Between 1990 and 2000, Wellington, East Carbon and Sunnyside witnessed growth at the expense of Price, Helper and Scofield.

Unincorporated areas recorded the largest increase at 420 people.

From 2001 to 2003, all of Carbon's communities lost residents to the outlying unincorporated areas in the county.

While the number of people living in Carbon County has fluctuated, so has the age distribution.

In the decade between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of the population younger than the age of 18 increased dramatically, jumping from 28.7 percent in 1990 to 34.5 percent in 2000.

On the other side of the spectrum, the number residents ages 65 and older remained relatively constant in Carbon County

One measure of human capital in an area has is educational attainment, noted Hanni.

In terms of the number of adults earning at least a high school diploma, Carbon County made significant progress during the last decade.

In 1990, 74 percent of Carbon's adult population had high school diplomas. By 2000, the number of high school graduates increased to 81 percent, topping the United States average by a full point.

However, the number of adults in Carbon County with at least a bachelor's degree slid one point to 12 percent.

As the national economy fought to regain traction in 2003, Carbon County experienced a 3.5 percent drop in employment opportunities.

The decline was due, in part, to the closure of Skyline mine and rising productivity reducing the need for additional workers in the coal industry.

The loss of the high paying jobs had in the coal mining industry exerted a trickle down effect on the local economy, driving down demand for goods and services.

The county ended the year with an annual average of 8,601 non-farm jobs.

The overall decline in employment was spread across all industry sub-sectors. Only private health and education services at 1 percent, financial activities at 5 percent and information industries at 1 percent industries posted employment grow in the year.

Manufacturing, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, government and mining all reported significant job losses.

Other industrial sectors encountered employment declines, but not to the same extent

Wage and income data in Carbon County can be deceiving, commented the DWS regional economist.

For example, the average monthly wage in Carbon County registered at $2,287 or $264 less than the state's average in 2003.

Coal mining reported an average monthly wage of $5,384 and, when adjusted for inflation, the income data for Carbom County reflects long-term stagnation.

From 1990 to 2003, the real wage in Carbon County remained constant, suggesting residents have not experienced an increase in purchasing power. The trend is common to most counties, Utah and the nation as a whole, added Hanni.

Residential construction activity in Carbon County has grown, in terms of permit valuation, during the last decade. In 1998 and 1999, the county watched valuations soar through the roof, only to have the figure return to normal levels in the following years.

In 2003, the number of new dwelling units dipped slightly. While residential construction activity has been fairly predictable, non-residential construction has been all over the map. Between 1991 and 2003, non-residential construction has hit highs in excess of $10 million and lows below $3 million. This erratic behavior may be a sign of a local economy unsure of where it is going.

Gross taxable sales sagged in 2003 as job losses reduced demand for goods and services across the board. The past decade has seen wild fluctuation in this important indicator making it hard to predict what the future holds.

However, as the county is the major retail hub for the surrounding region - retail trade sales make up nearly 50 percent of gross taxable sales in the county- sales at discount department stores should prove to be a stabilizing force.


No matter how you cut it, 2003 was a tough year for Carbon County. Employment fell, real wages remained flat, and population fell slightly, but the picture isn't all bad. Carbon County has in place many of the infrastructure pieces required for long-term growth: a good college, excellent health care facilities and access to the information superhighway. In addition, rising natural gas prices have convinced major utility companies of the long-term necessity of coal-fired power plants, thus ensuring that Carbon's coal industry will remain viable, at least in the short-term. Finally, as the national and state economies recover there should be increased demand for Carbon County's goods and services.


After experiencing a boom in the 1980s, Carbon County's population has remained steady . Census data suggests that the county's population is tilted more to older age groups than the state overall.

While the state and nation have had strong population growth rates, Carbon County has been on a wild ride. The declining population trend of the 1990s has been counteracted by a bump in the early 2000s. But the lack of growth will have implications for future economic expansion in the local area.

Carbon County continues to see a net out-migration of residents as economic opportunities elsewhere lure locals away.


The 1990s were fairly kind to the county in terms of employment. However, as the nation and state dipped into recession in the early 2000s, the county saw the number of local jobs decline.

As the national and state economies slowed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Carbon County experienced dropping employment. The slight bump in 2002 was unable to shake the downward movement. Reflecting the overall decline in jobs in the county, nearly all local industries shed jobs in 2003.

In 2003, Carbon joined Salt Lake and Wayne counties in shedding jobs.Only private health and education services added a significant numer of employment opportunies.

However, Carbon's position as a regional hub has helped diversify the local economy.Carbon County serves as a retail hub for the surrounding region. Large discount retailers in Price make up the bulk of the general merchandise store employment.

Carbon County relies on government and mining employment to a greater extent than Utah as a whole. But in many other industries, Carbon and the state are closely matched - a positive sign for the county.

The majority of firms in Carbon County have small payrolls. A majority of local workers in the county work for firms that employ at least 20 people. Government and professional business services have grown in importance in the last decade. Government includes public education.

Coal production is the major mining subsector in the county. For gas, the employment levels are low because the nature of the reserve. Coalbed methane production does not require many workers.

The average 7.8 percent unemployment rate in the county remains higher than that of the nation and the state. Emery at 11 percent, Garfield at 10.8 percent, San Juan at 10.2 percent, Tooele at 9.1 percent, Duchesne at 8.1 percent and Summit at 7.8 percent stop Carbon from registering the highest unemployment rate in the state.


Declines in mining employment have had a negative impact on the county's average monthly wage position with the state. On averages, mining wages continue to be higher than wages in other industries. While average monthly wages for the county were fairly competitive with the state average, the loss of high-paying mining jobs hurt the county's position.The middle family in Carbon County still makes nearly $10,000 less than the state and national averages.A significant portion of the county's families are living on less than $25,000 a year. Transfer payments make up a larger portion of personal income in Carbon County than in the state.

Eco indicators

The late 1990s saw an explosion in residential construction activity throughout Carbon County. While the recession of the early 2000s cooled the market, 2003 marked a solid rebound.With a lower number of permits issued and valuation rising, it appears that residents of Carbon County are building more expensive homes.

1998 and 1999 where years of dramatic swings in the county's gross taxable sales. Besides those two years, the trend has been for slow, but steady growth. Sales in retail trade dwarfs all other segments of taxable sales and services. Business investment purchases of mining equipment, because of the county's dominant coal industry, were also fairly large.

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