Monday, April 27, 2015

San Juan County Economic Update

Tyson Smith, Regional Economist

The Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) relies on several data sources to help describe the state of the economy. The most accurate data available is the nonfarm payroll employment information that is collected through the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. However, the resources required to gather data accurately come at the expense of timeliness, which results in a four to six month lag between the time these data are collected and when they are available to the public.

Other data are collected in a timelier manner, and these data (along with historical trends) provide a foundation to estimate current economic conditions. Economists at DWS rely heavily upon statistical models, surveys, and limited datasets to evaluate the economy in real-time. Some of those tools, like the county unemployment rates and initial weekly unemployment claims, are highlighted in this article.

The truth is that no single source of economic data exists that can appropriately profile the labor market in real-time. So, when evaluating regional economies it is important to understand the recent economic history of the area, while also using any up-to-date information available despite the limitations of present data.
  • San Juan County’s employment growth continued to erode in fourth quarter 2014. The county shed a quarterly average of 165 jobs from fourth quarter 2013, or approximately 4 percent of the workforce. This marked the third consecutive quarter of year-over job losses. The goods-producing industries — down 18.2 percent — accounted for a quarterly average of 136 lost jobs. 
  • As the county lost jobs, unemployment remained relatively high. The rate settled at 6.9 percent in March, which was the third highest among Utah’s 29 counties. San Juan County’s unemployment rate is still markedly higher than both the state and national averages.   
  • First-quarter 2015 initial unemployment claims remained relatively unchanged from the previous year. The weekly average has moved from just under nine claims per week in first quarter 2014 to ten per week in 2015.
  • Average monthly wages in the county increased 1.8 percent, 2.5 percentage points slower than the state average. Weakening in the good-producing industries, particularly mining, contributed to wage stagnation. 
  • Fourth quarter 2014 taxable sales in San Juan County fell $12.4 million from fourth quarter 2013. The county experienced a drop in year-over taxable sales growth for the fifth time in the last six quarters. The 22.6 percent drop in taxable sales was the second largest decline among Utah’s 29 counties.