Politicians and promoters can't see anything wrong with Utah's employment figures, depicting a rosy picture of joblessness on the decline.
But some local economists "have been losing sleep for several months because of mixed signals shown by the principal labor market indicators," the state's chief labor market economist says.Kenneth E. Jensen admits monthly employment figures don't jibe with other developments in the Utah economy, such as lethargic job growth.
But improvements are forthcoming in the way employment figures are calculated, he said, increasing the accuracy of unemployment statistics published by the state's Department of Employment Security, also known as Job Service.
The most troublesome "contradiction" illustrated by the monthly unemployment numbers is the slow rate of employment growth when unemployment is falling.
As unemployment goes down, it would seem logical that employment would rise proportionately. But, according to Job Service figures, that hasn't been the case.
As Utah's unemployment rate began a steady decline since late 1986, job growth took place at a much slower rate.
The apparent phenomenon has an explanation, Jensen said.
Utah's economic slump during 1986-87 "produced a severe slowdown in creation of new jobs," he wrote in last month's labor market report.
"With jobs hard to find, some unemployed people stopped looking for work or left the state to seek employment."
At the same time, few layoffs occurred, making the job-loss figure very low.
"Thus, unemployment decreased even though few new jobs were being created."
Utah's unemployment rate of 4.8 percent in October won't drop much farther, however, because of the gradual acceleration of job growth that has taken place this year.
The state's population growth requires 20,000 jobs annually, Jensen said, so new jobs should be snapped up as soon as they appear. That will cause unemployment to remain steady, as employment catches up.
The annual job growth was 3.1 percent, or 20,400 new jobs, over the last 12 months. The annual increase is the highest in three years.
Another problem in the department's statistics is that their estimated job growth doesn't reflect the progress indicated in industry payroll data.
The Utah labor force estimate grew 1.1 percent from September 1987 to September 1988. Meanwhile, nonagricultural payroll jobs in the state increased by 2.7 percent during the same period.
Jensen said the nonagricultural payroll figures, which imply each worker takes home only one paycheck, are inflated by workers who hold more than one job.
Furthermore, while agricultural and self-employed workers are excluded from the payroll figures they are included in the labor force estimates.
Jensen said changes are in place to bring employment and unemployment figures in line and make the monthly figures more accurate.
He said the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, whose calculation standards all state Employment Security offices must follow, has developed a new and improved procedure to estimating employment figures.
The new procedures, which will be reflected in the January 1989 data, use sophisticated econometric techniques, primarily regression analysis, Jensen said.
Government labor economists "are confident that the new employment and unemployment estimates for Utah will compare more favorably with the nonagricultural payroll jobs trend," Jensen wrote.