Recently released employment figures indicate that Iron County continues to flirt with economic expansion without actually making the commitment. For almost two years, Iron County has seemed poised to generate consistent employment gains. However, so far, that labor market expansion has yet to occur. For the most part, the county’s year-to-year employment changes have bounced just above or below the no-change line.
Third quarter encapsulated that trend with a slight year-to-year gain in July, no change in August and a slight year-over decline in September. Since the yearly change in nonfarm jobs is (in my opinion) the best indicator of an economy’s well-being, it certainly seems too early to pronounce the Iron County economy as healthy.
On the other hand, other economic indicators are showing improvement which suggest job growth may not be too far behind.
Let’s take a brief look at the county’s economic indicators:
• Between September 2011 and September 2012, Iron County’s nonfarm jobs dropped by 0.3 percent—a net loss of approximately 40 jobs.
• Industry expansion and loss rates were all over the map—one reason the overall level of employment has failed to consistently mend.
• Construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and the federal government were among the largest job losers.
• On the job-winning side of the aisle you can count wholesale trade, transportation, financial activities, a private education/health/social services.
• Unemployment did continue its downward track. In November 2012, the county’s unemployment rate estimate measured 6.8 percent—down from 7.5 percent a year earlier. Even with its lack of commitment to employment expansion, the county’s rate measured almost a full percentage point below the national average of 7.7 percent.
• How can unemployment continue to decline when the county has yet to experience and notable job growth? The labor force is a very fluid entity. A decline in the unemployment rate can be attributed to workers leaving the area or the labor force.
• Home permitting has begun to show its first signs of life since the housing bubble began its slow collapse. For the first 10 months of the year, home permits are up almost 17 percent compared with the same time period in the previous year.
• Although the Utah State Tax Commission has yet to release third quarter 2012 gross taxable sales figures, it seem likely this indicator will also show improvement. As of second quarter 2012, the county had experienced four straight quarters of improving sales figures. In addition, car sales continued to skyrocket in the third quarter.