SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's unemployment rate dropped slightly during May and dropped even more compared to a year ago.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate registered 7.3 percent for May of this year compared to 7.4 percent in April. The new percentage is down 0.5 percent from last May's 7.8 percent.

Approximately 99,700 Utahns are considered unemployed, the Utah Department of Workforce Service reports.

Nationally, the United States unemployment rate for the period was 9.1 percent, a slight 0.1 percent hike over the previous month.

"These latest unemployment numbers reinforce that Utah's economy is moving in the right direction," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday. "We recognize that there are still far too many Utahns who are unable to find work, but I'm confident that we will continue to steadily create jobs."

The nonfarm wage and salaried job count for May 2011 expanded by 1.5 percent compared to the same period last year.

Approximately 17,400 jobs have been created over the past 12 months, according to the DWS — with total wage and salary employment at 1.2 million.

The Utah economy continues to make steps toward economic recovery, said DWS senior economist Mark Knold. Job growth is estimated at 1.5 percent over the past 12 months, and the state's unemployment rate has trended downward.

Knold cautioned, however, that even with these improvements, there is continued stress in the labor market and there are still forces working against the economy such as rising commodity prices and a difficult housing market.

The percentage of people age 16 and over who held a job in May 2010 was 63.2 percent, he said. In May of 2011, the percentage was down to 62.0 percent — even with 17,000 more jobs, Knold said.

"The labor force participation rate (those 16 and older either working or looking for work) declined from 68.2 percent last May, to 66.9 percent currently," Knold said. "Some people may have stopped looking for a job and have exited the labor force due to discouragement or to pursue further education, bringing down the unemployment rate."