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Unemployment rates, bankruptcy protection filings declining in Utah

Utah's declining unemployment rates and bankruptcy filings appear to indicate an improving economy statewide.

The state's unemployment rate slipped to 4.5 percent and bankruptcy filings slowed slightly in April, noted the Utah Department of Workforce Services' latest Trendlines report.

And according to statistics recently released by the United States Bankruptcy Court, 1,947 Utahns filed for protection in April. The total number of bankruptcies filed by residents across the state decreased from 2,081 in March 2004 and 2,059 in April 2003. Filings for the first four months of 2004 were down 7 percent when compared to 2003.

But on a negative financial note, the high cost of building materials is pushing home prices skyward across the country and Utah, pointed out the department of workforce services report.

The most significant price hikes are occurring in plywood and wafer board. The materials are used in sub-flooring, walls and roofs. A four-by-eight sheet of seven-sixteenths-inch wafer board is selling at $19 a sheet, up 217 percent from $6 one year ago.

At the national level, a standard gauge designed to forecast the U.S. economy's performance in the upcoming months barely edged higher in April.

The U.S. Conference Board indicated that the organiz-ation's index of leading indicators climbed a slight 0.1 percent in April after posting a revised 0.8 percent gain in March.

The number of housing projects builders broke ground on dipped in April.

Nevertheless, the current level of nationwide activity suggests that the residential construction sector in the U.S. economy remains relatively healthy, explained the department of workforce services Trendlines report.

The number of residential units reported as presently underway at various locations throughout the nation clocked in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.97 million, confirmed the U.S. Commerce Department.

The figure represents a 2.1 percent decline from the number of new residential units listed as under construction in March.

With mortgages rates on the rise, economists expect the housing market to cool in 2004 from what has been red-hot activity seen over the last several years.

The latest figures from the U.S. Energy Department put the national average for pump prices at more than $2 per gallon for the first time ever.

American economists and budget analysts estimate that every penny increase at the gasoline pump is equal to $1 billion in lost consumer spending, pointed out the latest department of workforce services report. That adds up to more than $50 billion in lost spending to date in 2004.

The latest figures on offshore out-sourcing suggest that American companies are sending more white-collar jobs to low-wage countries like India, China and Russia than researchers originally estimated, concluded the Utah Department of Workforce Services latest Trendlines report.

Roughly 830,000 U.S. service sector jobs ranging from telemarketers and accountants to software engineers and chief technology officers will move abroad by the end of 2005, according to Forrester Research Inc.

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