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Utah's unemployment rate in October fell for the third consecutive month, while job growth accelerated to a four-month high, the state Department of Workforce Services said Friday.
The jobless rate fell to 5.2 percent last month, down from 5.4 percent in September. Although that rate is at its lowest level since November 2008, 70,800 Utahns are still unemployed, according to the department.
The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in October, up 0.1 percentage point from the previous month
Employment in Utah expanded by 2.3 percent from October 2011, a 12-month increase of 28,300 jobs, the department said. Nationally, employment grew just 1.4 percent.
Mark Knold, the Workforce Services chief economist, said the latest decline in the unemployment rate, coupled with what he said was probably a conservative estimate of job growth that will be revised upward to close to 3.5 percent, suggests Utah's recovery from the recession and tepid recovery continues to pick up speed.
"There is still a lot of repair left to be done from the recession setback, but we are certainly moving a lot faster down that trail than we were a year ago," Knold said.
"It's a multiyear trail, but this is a good pace."
With the exception of construction and government, all sectors of Utah's economy contributed to job growth. The most robust category was professional and business services, which added 10,800 jobs over the last 12 months. Construction lost 1,200 jobs; government employment was off by 900 jobs.
The trade, transportation and utilities sector was the second-most active area of Utah's economy, with 4,300 hires over the past year. Much of the activity is taking place at C.R. England, the giant Salt Lake City-based trucking company. It's put on 1,400 new drivers since January.
"We have basically an endless supply of openings," Thom Pronk, vice president of recruiting, said Friday.
"We are in a pretty aggressive growth mode, both in terms of adding equipment, but also teams, two drivers in a truck. Heading into the fourth quarter, it's just as big a strategic issue as anything," Pronk said.
In part, England is hiring is because of an industrywide shortage of truck drivers, estimated at 50,000 to 250,000 positions. That's kept Pronk busy.
Business conditions are another reason. England's core business is hauling loads that must be refrigerated, and the company has landed a lot of contracts recently.
"There's no top end [to the number of drivers England wants to hire]. We'll take all of them that we can get," Pronk said.
Utah's unemployment rate peaked in December 2009. For months, the rate fell because thousands of discouraged jobseekers dropped out of the labor market. That changed about a year ago. The rate continued to fall, but it was because the economy was finally healing, Knold said.
"For two years, the unemployment rate came down for negative reasons, meaning people were leaving the labor force. For the last year, it's falling for positive reasons more people are finding jobs," he said.
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