When it comes to the local economy, Tooele County ended 2019 on a high note. As we reported in the Dec. 26 edition, the county’s unemployment rate in November 2019 was 2.6%, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
That impressive low rate falls close to the county’s historic jobless benchmark of 2.5% set in the first quarter of 2007.
The DWS reports that Tooele County’s labor force in November 2019 was 33,607 with 32,744 employed and only 863 who were looking for work. The DWS also says, “the picture of the Tooele County economy is positive. In the past year there has been job growth, low unemployment, construction and an increase in taxable sales.”
But before everyone accepts a pat on the back, there’s another side of the story to consider. It’s a side that we’ve been concerned about for years and have repeatedly urged in editorials for local officials not to ignore.
In last Thursday’s edition, our first in the New Year, we reported that more local workers are commuting daily out of the county to earn a paycheck — and taking more time out of their day to do it.
According to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau, called the 2018 1-year American Community Survey, 49.2% of Tooele County’s workforce left the county every day in 2018 to earn a paycheck. What does that 49.2% represent? Of 32,121 locally available workers, more than 16,000 didn’t work in the county that year.
The new report also says over 17% of those workers spent 60 minutes or more getting to work, and more than 75% made the trip alone in a vehicle in 2018. Of note, the same census report done in 2017 says only 8% of commuting workers said it took 60 minutes or more to get to work.
All of which means a significant portion of the county’s workforce — our neighbors, our families, our friends — are spending huge chunks of personal time every day getting to and from work.
The negative toll such commuting puts on the human side of the employment equation aren’t imagined. Local commuters say commuting cuts into personal and family time, creates stress, impacts physical and emotional health, and causes more financial burden due to commuting costs. Polls and studies done in the U.S. and other countries back those claims.
The Utah Department of Transportation plans to make improvements to its roadways in the county over the next several years to help reduce congestion and commuter times. But to really help those approximately 16,000 workers — and future local workers since the county’s population growth is projected to continue — more good, high-paying jobs need to be locally available.
A 2.6% unemployment rate in Tooele County is indeed a welcomed gift. But 49.2% is a disproportionate share of the county’s workforce that goes elsewhere for its income. The pressing need to employ more local workers closer to home instead of along the Wasatch Front continues.
We again urge local officials, specifically the Tooele County Commission, and the mayors of Tooele and Grantsville cities, to work harder to lower that 49.2%. The greater Tooele County community will be better for it.