SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people looking for work in Utah has declined since the recession began five years ago. And it may be some time before the Beehive State reaches those employment heights again.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, about 130,000 eligible workers have stopped looking for employment since 2007. At the time, Utah had approximately 1.35 million people in its eligible workforce — those 16 years old and older — with about 72 percent of those eligible actually employed or looking for work.

Since that high-water mark, the participation rate of eligible workers has declined to 66 percent.  More younger people have dropped out of the labor force and perhaps moved in with parents or returned to school, and more aging baby boomers have found it difficult to find jobs, said senior DWS economist Mark Knold.

“You see kids going back into mom’s basement, and/or college enrollments (going) way up during the recession,” he said, adding that eventually, the long-term benefit will be a better-educated workforce.

“But in the meantime, you have this large decline in the labor force participation rate,” he said. “You have people that the economy pushes out, and they come back in because the economy lets them come back in.”

Knold said that it would likely take years for the employment sector to recover back to 2007 levels.

“You want to try to get the jobs back that were lost during the recession, you want to employ people who age into the labor force during the recession and you have to absorb the (people) who are coming in next year and the year after,” he explained. “It’s a moving target.”  

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He said the employment gap could be closed by 2019 or 2020 if the economy rebounds.

“If you can get some really strong job growth in between here and then, you could shorten that span,” Knold said.

In the interim, he said the Utah employers should focus on creating consistent job growth over the long term.

“We probably would love to go back to 70 percent if the economy would allow it,” Knold said. “You will eventually absorb it all, but it’s going to take a long time before it happens.”


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