SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns with gainful employment increased 2 percent over the past 12 months, according to the latest data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
The 2 percent expansion from June 2010 to June this year means nearly 24,000 more Utahns have found jobs in the past 12 months, bringing total wage and salary employment to approximately 1.21 million.
Despite the jobs growth, the unemployment rate for July was 7.4 percent, up 0.1 percent from June — which qualified as statistically unchanged, according to Department of Workforce Services senior economist Mark Knold.
"The unemployment rate changed, but we added over 20,000 jobs," Knold said.
"At some point in time, the number of jobs starts to really pick up and the unemployment rate goes higher with it," Knold said. "It's because you have an idle pool of discouraged workers on the sidelines who come back into the workforce to look for a job. Until they find (work), they push up the unemployment rate."
He said the expansion was attributable to the natural growth that occurs annually as about 20,000 new people join the workforce after turning 16 years old or graduate from high school and decide to look for a job.
Statistically, you have to be at least 16 years old to be counted as eligible for the workforce, Knold noted. The jobless rate would have to rise at least 0.3 percent before it is considered statistically significant, he said.
"We added jobs, but we have such a large pool of unemployed people … that it's not enough job growth to put a dent in (the overall jobless rate)," Knold said. "(But) the trend is that we are adding jobs at an increasing rate."
Gov. Gary Herbert said he was "encouraged" by the numbers, saying they "verify what we see in the marketplace — steady improvement and recovery."
"But jobs squarely remain our primary focus," Herbert said. "There are still far too many Utahns who are unemployed or underemployed."
A year ago, the state’s jobless rate was 7.7 percent. Today, approximately 100,000 Utahns are considered unemployed.
The national unemployment rate registered 9.2 percent in the same 12-month period.
Knold said Utah continues on its path to economic recovery. Most industries are recovering some of the jobs lost during the recession, with the two exceptions being financial activities and government.
Employment growth has been running on an upward trend, and it is anticipated that incremental employment gains will continue to develop as the remainder of 2011 unfolds, he said.