By Zach Schofield
Published on March 12, 2018

The following two charts illustrate the stark economic differences between urbanized areas of the state and rural Utah by comparing unemployment rates.

  • Non-Farm Unemployment by Region (selected data)

This chart shows three snapshots in unemployment data for four selected regions. The Wasatch Front is the most urbanized and economically productive region of Utah while Central Utah, Southeast, and Southwest Utah are typically less economically successful.

The counties in the relevant regions are:

Wasatch FrontCentral UtahSoutheastSouthwest
DavisMillardCarbonBeaver
Salt LakeSanpeteEmeryGarfield
TooeleSevierGrandIron
UtahWayneSan JuanKane
WeberWashington

The snapshot labeled “July 2004” is neither a season of economic boom or bust; so something of a baseline. “July 2010” represents the height of the Great Recession. At this point all regions had either reached, or would soon reach, their maximum unemployment level. “December 2017” is the most recent data available and was chosen to represent the state of the economy today.

Two important conclusions can be reached from this chart. The first is that certain regions of the state experience recession-type conditions on a regular basis, while the rest of the state performs generally well. This can be seen by comparing July 2004 unemployment in Southeast Utah (7.5%) with the Wasatch Front’s unemployment level in the Great Recession (7.9%).

The second conclusion is that the rural regions of Utah consistently experience higher rates of unemployment than urbanized regions. This was especially true in July 2010 and December 2017.

  • Non-Farm Unemployment by County Class (full data)

This chart shows unemployment data from 1998 to 2017 by the different county classes (determined by population, with Class 1 being the most populous).

The important point to note here is that unemployment in counties of the 4th, 5th and 6th classes are consistently higher than the rest of the state. And unemployment during the Great Recession was highest in the 4th, 5th and 6th classes.

In addition, from about 2011 to the present, the recovery affected non-rural counties quickly and effectively, bringing employment to pre-recession levels. The other, more rural counties, in contrast, still have not reached levels of employment enjoyed before the recession. This graph makes it very clear that counties of the 4th, 5th and 6th classes effectively live in a different economic world than the rest of the state. The norm in rural Utah is higher unemployment, more bitter recessions, and slower recoveries.

This data underscores the positive impact of HB 390 in strengthening rural economic incentives.

Zach Schofield is a policy research intern at the Sutherland Institute.

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