Last Tuesday’s front page was awash in good news with high school graduation stories filled with commencement speakers’ anecdotes and quips about bidding farewell to a former life and boldly stepping forward into a new one.
Adding to that good news was a story about Tooele County’s unemployment rate, which should be of interest to both college and high school graduates looking for work. It’s also of deep interest to the Tooele Transcript Bulletin.
According to a new report by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Tooele County’s unemployment rate for April was 3.1% — the lowest reported rate for the county since Fall 2007. Statewide the month’s unemployment rate was 2.9%, the lowest since December 2007.
For comparison, the national unemployment rate during April was 3.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.
Tooele County’s low unemployment rate is exciting and marks a robust economic time. But a closer look at that 3.1%, and current local job opportunity numbers, indicate the low rate may have more to do with geography than a surplus of new places to locally work.
What do we mean by geography? The DWS report says Tooele County had 265 more new jobs — a 1.7% increase — in April versus the same month a year ago. One could consider that increase as insignificant. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports approximately 263,000 jobs were created nationally in April. That averages approximately 87 new jobs per county across the U.S. The math is simple and doesn’t take per capita into account, but does suggest Tooele County’s 265 new jobs for April is a highlight.
Yet, despite that highlight, it’s hard to ignore Tooele County’s low joblessness is a result of the county’s close proximity to Utah’s economic engine: the Wasatch Front and more specifically, Salt Lake County, which had a 2.7% unemployment rate for April. The rate perhaps further affirms Tooele County residents’ over-dependence on employers in Salt Lake County for a paycheck.
Proof of such is seen every morning and evening as over 40 percent of the county’s available workforce congests state Routes 36 and 138 and Interstate 80 while commuting to and from work along the Wasatch Front. And furthermore, according to the DWS, the pay is a big lure, too. The average monthly wage in Salt Lake County during the fourth quarter of 2018 was $4,510. For comparison, Tooele County’s average monthly wage for the fourth quarter of 2018 was $3,391.
We have long said that Tooele County’s dependence on Salt Lake County for jobs is out of balance. With so many citizens living here but going east or elsewhere for work, government services are disproportionately funded by residential rooftops instead of business and industry. Also, the health and quality family life for so many citizens who commute is a concern.
The need to create more local jobs, diversify categories of industry and generate new tax revenue, remains a pressing issue. Local leaders should continue to lean forward and pursue economic development that fits Tooele County’s environs.
And let’s give more local graduates a reason to step boldly forward — closer to home.