Despite a net loss of jobs, Tooele County’s unemployment rate for March has fallen to the average monthly unemployment rate for the last 23 years.
Tooele County’s March 2013 unemployment rate was 5.4 percent. That is 0.9 percentage points below March 2012’s unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, according to preliminary data released by the Department of Workforce Services.
Tooele County’s unemployment rate has been above the 23-year average of 5.4 percent since November 2008 when the unemployment rate was 3.6 percent.
However, changes in Tooele County’s economy in recent years make defining average for the county a difficult task for state economists.
“There have been a number of important structural changes to the Tooele County economy and demographics in recent years,” said Jim Robson, DWS regional economist. “The recession, the closing of DCD, the amount of commuting, the changing industry mix, et cetera. We can’t be sure if the historical relationships relative to unemployment rates will continue to hold.”
March’s unemployment decline in Tooele County, like the decrease for the last three months, is not due to job growth within Tooele County, but a result of more people that commute out of the county to find work.
While the total number of jobs in Tooele County declined in March, surrounding counties, where nearly 50 percent of Tooele County’s workforce finds work, experienced job growth.
In Salt County the number of jobs in March 2013 grew by 4.2 percent over March 2012. In Davis County, the county that attracts the second largest amount of commuters from Tooele County, the job growth rate was 2.5 percent for the same time period.
In Tooele County in March 2013, the number of jobs in the county declined by 294 jobs, a 1.9 percent drop.
There were 13 out of 29 counties in Utah with an unemployment rate lower than Tooele County’s rate for March 2013.
The county with the lowest unemployment rate was Duchesne with 3.7 percent, where rapid growth in the oil and gas industry drove unemployment down.
The county with the highest unemployment rate was Wayne County with 13 percent, where the closure of wilderness therapy and youth treatment programs, the county’s largest employer, caused local unemployment to jump.
A DWS report for the fourth quarter of 2012 show gains in employment in the construction, retail trade, and transportation industries in Tooele County were swallowed up by losses in the industry sectors that include hazardous waste management, the Deseret Chemical Depot and its contractors, along with decreased federal and local government employment.
A report on jobs by sector in Tooele County for the first quarter of 2013 is not available.
Tooele County’s unemployment rate has been traditionally higher than the state’s. The state’s unemployment rate for March 2013 was 4.9 percent.
State economists are not sure if this trend will continue. With the recent changes in Tooele County’s workforce, including more integration with the Wasatch Front job market, old trends may change.
“Will the Tooele County unemployment rate always tend to be higher than the state average? I am not sure,” said Robson.
In the last 23 years Tooele County’s unemployment rate peaked in December 2009 at 8.9 percent with 2,539 people unemployed and dipped as low as 2.8 percent in March 2007 with 738 people unemployed.
“I do not expect to see the unemployment rate for Tooele County to drop below 4 percent in the next two years,” said Robson. “Will we ever see an unemployment rate below 3 percent again? Well, never say never.”