SALT LAKE CITY — The number of Utahns employed in December jumped 3 percent compared to the same time last year.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Thursday that Utah's nonfarm wage and salaried job count for December 2011 increased by 36,300 jobs — raising total wage and salary employment to 1.23 million. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate — generated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — registered 6 percent, down 0.4 percent from November 2011.

Three months ago, the state's jobless rate was 7.4 percent. The rapid decline is partly attributed to employment gains and to people leaving the labor force, said DWS chief economist Mark Knold.

"People leaving the labor force is a factor within the unemployment rate decline," he said. "The current unemployment rate decline is a combination of job growth and some continued labor force exiting."

Knold commented that the labor force atrophy has four years of momentum behind it, and that force is not expected to disappear over night. Approximately 80,300 Utahns are considered to be unemployed.

The U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 8.6 percent in November 2011 to 8.5 percent last month.

All of Utah's industrial sectors are adding jobs, Knold said, with the lone exception being government.

"But it is anticipated that future revisions will ultimately move government to the positive side of the ledger," he said. "These government gains will show up in education — kindergarten through universities."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert called the report great news.

"Utah's policies are working," Herbert said in a statement. "We are steadily creating jobs while ensuring Utah maintains a predictable and stable environment for capital investment, and focused on our target of 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days."

Meanwhile, the chief economist in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget said employment numbers may move up and down slightly over the next 12 months, but the data indicate that Utah has come a long way since the depths of the recession.

"While we are still challenged by labor force participation and unemployment, this state is posting growth that outpaces national averages," Juliette Tennert said.

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