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Carbon economy not unaffected by downturn

Sun Advocate reporter

Nationally, the economy was able to expand last month for the first time in over a year. However, the local economy still shows signs of a long recession. Unemployment has been steady at about 7.7 percent in Carbon County, which is higher than Utah's average of 6.2 percent, but remains lower than the national average of about 9.8 percent (Update Nov. 6 now 10.2 percent), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is Carbon County's highest incidence of unemployment since 2003, which comprised the highest rate since 1994. However, the situation is somewhat different now, because, in 2003, there were roughly 1,000 fewer people in the area. More people might be working, but more are also unemployed.

One of the hardest hit industries in Utah for Sept. 2009 was construction, which fell about 17.9 percent. Manufacturing was down 9 percent and professional and business services declined 6.3 percent. All of these percentages, provided by the BLS, detailed a 12- month difference

With the high levels of prolonged unemployment, other side effects have emerged that have proven difficult for the system to handle. One such problem is insurance. According to the health consumer organization, 40,200 people in Utah lost their health insurance in 2009. In Utah, as a whole, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 71.7 percent of the population under age 65 are insured by an employer. With the loss of insurance, many unemployed people become eligible for unemployment benefits. Yet, as the recession has continued, these too have become increasingly sparse for out-of-work families.

Because Utah has a high rate of people insured by an employer, a loss of a job can mean difficult times ahead for a family. Although the economy is showing signs of improvement, some of Utah's problems go deeper than the current recession. One such issue is the wage gap between men and women. Utah consistently ranks fourth nationally for the highest wage gaps. In a 2008 estimate of wage gaps issued by the BLS, women in Utah make about 69.3 percent of men's earnings for median earnings over 12 months. Only Louisiana, West Virginia and Wyoming rank higher. Wyoming rates highest at 64.3 percent.

"I think it's a bit unfair. I mean, women are just as capable as men," said Mindi Bowman, a waitress who works two jobs in Price.

While much of the economic data for the area shows a snapshot of the area's prosperity, it is important to realize that not everything depends on the numbers because circumstances can change quickly.

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