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State economist: job losses have stopped

The leisure and hospitality industries are projected to have had some of the biggest job gains in the month of June, but Utah Department of Workforce Services economist Mark Knold thinks the numbers are exaggerated.

The department’s report released Thursday is more proof that economic recovery is underway, but happening very slowly.

For example, Knold said he wouldn’t be surprised if the 3,300 new jobs in leisure and hospitality predicted by a computer model were much fewer or even non-existent. Still, he emphasized, that’s good news because jobs are not being lost anymore.

The projection is based on sample surveys from across the state. Knold estimated Park City’s companies account for about seven percent of the state’s jobs and about 36 percent of the jobs in Summit County.

If there is job growth in the leisure and hospitality industries, it’s likely in hotels, he said.

The most trustworthy and comprehensive estimates are from March, he said, when the industries were down 2.2 percent from the previous year that’s about 2,500 jobs.

It’s possible that strong summer travel numbers have prompted job creation since then, but Knold said his views are partly based on surveys, partly from years of reading responses and comparing them with actual data months later. His experience makes him question the 3,300, he said.

But his July 15 report is positive. The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate fell a tenth of a percent to 7.2 for June (same as April). Approximately 12,200 jobs have been added to the Utah economy since June 2009.

About 97,500 Utahns were considered unemployed in June (to be counted a person must be actively looking for work). The state has lost an estimated 59,000 jobs over the past two years.

"Yet even if slightly optimistic, the improving unemployment message still holds true the point still remains that the Utah economy is once again starting to add jobs," Knold wrote in the report.

And even if job creation in leisure and hospitality is exaggerated, the same holds true for those industries.

"Considering the year before thousands of jobs were lost, not losing any more is considered an improvement," he explained Thursday.

Summit County’s unemployment rate trends slightly higher than the state’s and June was no exception at 7.3 percent. Knold said that’s likely because of the seasonal nature of Park City jobs. Even though it is "seasonally adjusted," the trends of resort-town employment make the rate very volatile, he explained.

If local or state-wide unemployment rates do increase over the next few months, Knold said it will not be inconsistent with his optimistic projections. Because a person must be actively job hunting to be counted as unemployed, several thousand people who were too discouraged to be looking might start and increase jobless numbers. That does not mean jobs are being lost, however, and Knold said that harmful trend is likely over.


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