Utah's economy tapped its brakes a little in December, but the slowdown on the job front remained far from an out-of-control skid.

The state's year-over-year job growth rate slipped 0.3 percent to 3.6 percent as the state added about 44,800 jobs during that time. Utah's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate grew to 3.2 percent — up 0.6 percent from a year earlier and 0.4 percent from November's level. About 43,700 Utahns were unemployed in December, compared to 34,000 a year earlier, according to numbers released Tuesday by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

"It is more movement in these numbers than we've seen in quite a while," said Mark Knold, chief economist for the department.

"We have been predicting a slowdown, and it's there," he said. "We've been saying it's going to slow. It's just the evidence is getting a little stronger here in December."

Even so, Utah's job-growth and unemployment figures in December were far better than the national numbers of a 0.9 percent job-growth rate and 5.0 percent unemployment rate.

"We are heads and tails above what's going on with the rest of the national economy," Knold said. "We have been the top (job-growth) state in the nation for about a year now, but I think we're probably going to slide out of that chair here pretty soon."

The December rate of 3.6 percent compares with a long-term average of 3.3 percent per year since 1950 and translates to about 3,700 jobs being added monthly over the past year.

A sore spot was construction, which had a bump in unemployment claims in December.

"Construction definitely lets people go this time of year. That's a normal thing," Knold said. "What might have been abnormal was last year (December 2006), when they didn't let people go."

Truck drivers, heavy tractor-trailer drivers and structural iron and steel workers also were among those filing unemployment claims.

The slipping job-growth rate and higher unemployment rate are not at worrisome levels, he said, but they could get to that point if the subprime troubles spilled beyond the construction, mortgage and title industries to manufacturing and other industries that are "aloof" from housing, such as the information sector or leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services.

"When you see noticeable economic weakness in industries away from the construction-related stuff, that's when I'd say, hey, this has gotten to be a bigger problem than just this subprime thing. It's not being isolated," Knold said.

As for a national recession, the third-quarter gross domestic product figure, the most recent data available, continued to show growth, while a technical definition of a recession is at least two consecutive quarters of negative GDP numbers.

"Recession is definitely a possibility, but the most recent number doesn't show us moving in that direction," Knold said. "It would have to be a very strong and rapid reversal of the number we've just seen that would put the United States into a recessionary period. But it can feel like a recession without the numbers officially being in one."


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