Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Iron County Economic Update

Recently released nonfarm jobs figures for Iron County continue to illustrate an economy stuck in the stagnant no-man’s land of economic expansion. Although the county has shown employment improvement in some months, it has kept sinking into job loss territory on a regular basis for the past two years.

Overall fourth quarter employment rose a mere 0.1 percent. However, as of December the county had dropped 0.2 percent of its nonfarm jobs on a year-to-year basis. This economic behavior is indicative of an economy which is in the recovery stage, but can’t quite find the oomph to move into full-bored expansion.

Fortunately, other indicators are showing growth and may presage improvement in the economy’s most important indicator—employment. Here are a few details:

  • Between December 2011 and December 2012, Iron County lost roughly 40 jobs for a decline of 0.2 percent. 
  • Despite the overall decline, most major industries added employment. However, significant job losses in manufacturing, leisure/hospitality services, and the public sector more than offset any other gains. 
  • Construction, financial activities, professional/business services and private education/health/social services all added between 30 and 40 jobs each. Until the county can show consistent industry employment gains, it will have difficulty entering the expansionary phase of the business cycle. 
  • Despite the county’s spotty employment performance, unemployment rates continue to trend down. This suggests that individuals have found work elsewhere, left the labor market, or moved out of the area. 
  • In February 2012, Iron County’s jobless rate measured 6.7 percent—down from 7.5 percent a year earlier. While notably higher than the state average (5.2 percent), the county’s rate measures a full percent point below the U.S. figure (7.7 percent). 
  • Although much lower than during the recession, first-time claims for unemployment insurance are actually running slightly higher in 2013 than in 2012—again reflecting the struggling economy. Construction and professional/business services (which include temporary agencies) are showing the highest initial claims for unemployment insurance so far in 2013. 
  • The improving state of affairs in construction permitting should help buoy up employment in the months ahead. At 45 percent, Iron County’s increase in new home permits proved the third-fastest in the state for the past year. The 2012 dwelling-unit figures also mark the first year of improvement since 2005. 
  • As is typical, nonresidential permitting lagged gains in the residential arena. However, expect these declining figures to improve following the gains in home-building. 
  • Gross taxable sales also reflect an improving economy. While fourth quarter’s year-to-year gain proved relatively modest at 2 percent, sales have improved for six straight quarters. 
  • In particular, car sales have taken a decided jump. In 2012, the county’s car and truck sales increased by 30 percent—the third best performance in the state.