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Utah job count shows modest gain

Utah's nonfarm wage and salaried job count for February 2011, as measured by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) through its monthly employer survey, expanded by 1.6 percent compared against February 2010. Total wage and salary employment measures 1,177,500.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, Utah's other primary indicator of current labor market conditions also generated by BLS, registered 7.7 percent. Last February, the state's rate was 8.0 percent, a 0.3 percentage-point decline over the past 12 months. Approximately 104,000 Utahns are considered unemployed. The United States unemployment rate moved down one-tenth of a point to 8.9 percent.

The economy continues to show incremental employment gains in Utah. Most industrial sectors are adding jobs over the past 12 months, with the exceptions of construction, information, and financial activities. In a telling sign that the economy is starting to pick up the pace in this early phase of economic recovery, the professional and business services sector added over 9,000 new jobs. Nearly 4,000 of these are coming from employment service agencies and business support services.

Being counted in the unemployment rate is contingent upon participation in the labor force-in other words, looking for a job. Labor force population is considered as those 16 years of age and older. If all choose to work, the participation rate would be 100 percent. But not everyone 16 and over chooses to work, so the participation rate is always something less, and it fluctuates with good or bad economies. As of February 2011, that rate has declined to 66.9 percent-a 4.7 percentage-point drop in three years. This implies there are roughly 95,000 Utahns who have withdrawn from the labor force (non-employed) over the past three years-whether voluntarily or involuntarily. what Utah's non-employed picture looks like, and what kind of job growth will be needed going forward to undo the recession's damage (assuming some of these non-employed will come back into the labor force). This re-employment process and lowering the unemployment rate could be a drawn-out process spanning many months, if not multiple years.

The industry with the largest over-the-year percentage growth is natural resources, which includes mining and oil and gas. The industry grew 8.4 percent over the past year, but considering it is a relatively small industry in Utah, that adds up to only around 800 jobs. The increase is seen in the oil and gas sectors in response to the rising price of those commodities over the past year, rising from price levels that fell precipitously in 2009 to ones that currently have risen roughly to pre-recession levels-particularly oil. Natural gas prices have risen off the mat but are still below the peak levels seen before the recession. Yet, they have increased enough to once again invigorate the gas industry in the Uintah Basin.

The construction industry's worst days are behind it, but employment levels have yet to make any kind of rebound. Construction is down 1,200 positions over the past 12 months, but February isn't a good month for this industry even in good times. Gauging this industry's performance and rebound potential may be better served by waiting until the warm weather returns in the spring.

The manufacturing industry experienced heavy employment losses during the recession, but its current performance shows these losses are behind us. This industry is once again growing in Utah with the addition of roughly 3,500 new positions over the past year.

The trade and transportation sector measured a year-over gain of 1,500 positions. Wholesale trade jobs were unchanged over the past 12 months at 43,400. Retail trade saw some expansion, as employment was up 1,000 positions over the year. Jobs in the transportation sector have increased by 500 positions.

Financial activities are still showing negative impacts from the recession. These positions are down by 1,100 as both the credit and banking industries are still making adjustments. The real estate arena has also not yet shown signs of recovery.

The professional and business services sector is the most robust industry, adding over 9,000 new jobs over the past year. Employment flowing through temporary help and employment services is a major contributing factor here, as these industries generally see an increase in traffic in the early stages of an economic expansion. But there is also significant employment gains registered in business support services and in the high-paying professional, scientific, and technical area (up 2,800).

The education and healthcare sector remains an employment stalwart, adding 3,700 new jobs over the past 12 months. Population growth and demographic factors are the main drivers of this sector, with minor impact from the overall economy. Both population growth and the down economy have fueled more students to enter the higher education system. Population increase is the main growth mechanism behind the healthcare industry's expansion.

Leisure and hospitality employment is up an encouraging 1,500 jobs over the past year. Ample snowfall this year has been a plus for Utah's ski industry.

Government employment is unchanged over the past 12 months.

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