The United States is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate since 1969—3.6%, which economists consider full employment. At 2.9%, Utah’s April 2019 unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since December 2007, and Summit County’s is even lower. But this measure of a strong economy comes at cost—mostly to employers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the unemployment rate through a monthly survey that considers the number of residents in a county who are jobless and available to take a job, and have actively looked for one in the past four weeks—it’s not related to those who file for unemployment benefits. At 2.7%, Summit County’s unemployment rate is even less than the statewide average, and it’s been on a downward path since July 2010, at the tail-end of the Great Recession, when it reached 7.6%.
For those in the workforce, the current unemployment rate brings good news—it means if you want a job, there’s one out there for you. For employers, however, it means labor is scarce, and businesses have a harder time staffing up. That need for workers has driven wages up across the state, and Park City Chamber/Bureau CEO Bill Malone says he’s seen the same thing happen in Summit County. To compete with neighboring counties where unemployment is similarly low, Malone says businesses in the Park City area need to focus on two things: recruitment and retention.
“When you're in a really tight labor market, employees have that opportunity of a lot of choices,” Malone said. “They can pick up the Park Record and look at all the jobs and what people are offering for those jobs.”
Malone says he’s heard from both large and small employers about the difficulty they’ve had filling seasonal and year-round positions. When it comes to employee recruitment and retention, Malone says businesses might approach things differently, depending on their size.
“On the large side, granted, they may have more resources—they have maybe a lot more to offer in the benefit side, being a larger company, than a small business would have,” Malone said. “But small businesses tend to have more flexibility, be more creative in terms of what are the benefits that employee wants, and how do I do that and how do I adjust timing and scheduling to meet that employee’s needs.”
While the low unemployment rate has made it more challenging for employees to hire, data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services show that Utah has seen 3.2% job growth over the past year, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry, which has added 9,000 jobs since April 2018. Malone says that’s where Summit County has experienced most of its job growth, too, but with high housing costs in the Park City area, and so many jobs available in other counties, Malone says it’s hard to convince workers to commute in.
“A few years ago, when other parts of the state, the economies were not as robust as ours, there was the ability to entice people to drive here to go to work for a couple of bucks more,” Malone said. “That's kind of gone away, and so with a strong economy in the Salt Lake Valley—lots of choices—that ability to pull employees up from the valley is much more challenging.”
If service-oriented businesses in the area continue to struggle with hiring, Malone says he’s worried it’ll impact the local economy by diminishing the level of service—think, people waiting in line to be seated at a restaurant that’s half dark because there aren’t enough servers available.
“We have luxury product; we have luxury accommodations; we have great dining and culinary experiences, and all of those require high levels of service,” Malone said. “I think that the labor market could be the one piece of our economy that could actually stifle our economy, and the ability to provide that service or to provide that service for fewer people.”
The Utah Department of Workforce Services will release its May 2019 employment report later this month. The analysis breaks down the numbers of nonfarm employment by industry and by county.