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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Concerns over critical labor shortages have crossed the boundaries of the business community and are now shared by more than two-thirds of Utahns, according to a new survey.

The Deseret News / Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted earlier this month found that 68% of Utah voters polled are concerned about the number of unfilled jobs while 27% identified themselves as not concerned about the question and 5% were not sure of their position. The results come from a poll of 764 registered Utah voters and have a 3.54% margin of error.

Utah’s current unemployment rate of 2.4% maintains second place in the country, edged only by Nebraska’s 2% for the month of September according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Low unemployment is one of the main indicators of positive economic health, but it also serves as a litmus test for how difficult it can be for a typical business to hire the workers it needs, especially before seasonal spurts, such as the onset of the holiday shopping season.

Survey participants had mixed responses when asked who is responsible for adopting measures to address the state’s labor shortage dilemma, but 44% said they thought it was a problem for the private sector to deal with. Of those who think public entities should play a role in crafting a fix, 22% said it is the state government‘s responsibility and 19% think federal agencies should work on a resolution.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he shares the concerns of most Utahns, as evidenced by the new Deseret News poll, and that he is taking a close look at all aspects of faster-than-recovery recovery. Most of the state of the worst impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we are thrilled with Utah’s 2.4% unemployment rate, we are very concerned about the labor shortage affecting every industry in every community in Utah,” Cox told Deseret. News. “We are currently working with experts and economists to learn more about changes in worker participation and expectations in the wake of the pandemic.


“As markets continue to adjust, government officials need to be vigilant to ensure that we avoid discouraging work.”

This spring, Cox announced his own decision to help remove some perceived work disincentives and force more vigorous job search efforts among unemployed Utahns when he announced his decision to suspend federal benefits from unemployment insurance linked to the pandemic on June 26, more than two months before their scheduled expiration.

But data from a study released in August suggests the plan didn’t quite lead to those results, and the nation’s leading economy in Utah could be at least in part to blame.

A two-part survey conducted in June by researchers at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business sampled the feelings of jobless business owners and Utahns, including 500 households, about the outcome of the changes. in state unemployment benefits, among other issues.

One of the most notable data points went to the heart of Cox’s hopes that the removal of benefits and extended benefits would entice job seekers.

“To assess the impact of the expiration of additional (unemployment insurance) payments, we asked respondents if this expiration would influence the time and effort they devote to job search or financial planning. “Says the investigation report. “More than 90% of respondents say that the expiry of (unemployment) benefits will have no impact on their efforts to find work or their saving behavior.

While Utah currently has more jobs than before the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 53,000 cumulative new positions added since September 2019, the state’s employment participation rate is still at the bottom. lags behind pre-pandemic levels. And, the most recent data available shows that the 131,000 job postings in July far exceeded the 79,000 hires this month.

“Utah’s economy is still moving strongly through the biggest pandemic event,” said Mark Knold, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services in a statement accompanying the agency’s monthly employment report for the week. last. “Utah’s economy has more jobs now than it did before the pandemic began, and that is a testament to Utah’s economic resilience. There is still room for improvement as the engagement of the workforce in the labor market is lower than it was before the pandemic.

“For some, apprehension persists about returning to work, that is, interacting with the public. We see this as a natural and short-term condition and not as a new normal. “

As Utah companies looking to build their own workforce face stiff competition in the state’s current work environment, the circumstances are of huge benefit to those on the research side. employment out of the equation, and wages are rising and especially for those on lower wage levels, according to state labor services economists.

Salt Lake Chamber President / CEO Derek Miller said Utah companies across multiple industries are struggling to fill critical positions.

“We really can’t overestimate the magnitude or impact of the problem,” Miller said. “I was in St. George last week and walked into an ice cream shop. There were three teenage girls there who worked all over the place, struggling to keep up with business. They tried their best and apologized to customers, but also informed people that there would be a 45 minute wait.

“This is the case wherever you go in the state, and it’s not just consumer-oriented businesses like an ice cream shop trying to meet the challenges.”

Miller also fears that President Joe Biden’s upcoming implementation of vaccine mandates for large private companies will further exacerbate staffing issues for employers as some workers bail out to protest vaccine or forced testing requirements. .

“I’m worried about the labor shortage that the federal mandate could make matters worse,” Miller said. “I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I’m trying to keep an eye on the horizon on this issue.”

For current Utah job seekers, however, the horizons have never been brighter.

In an interview with Deseret News, Michael Jeanfreau, senior economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the state’s current job market is a boon for those looking to find a first job as well as for those who wish to increase their income by moving to a new position. . This, he said, is especially true for positions with lower education requirements.

“What we are seeing right now are worse circumstances from an employers’ point of view, but better circumstances for employees,” Jeanfreau said. “If Amazon is hiring 250 new drivers right now and I work at a gas station, this looks like a great opportunity.”

Jeanfreau said that competition for workers resulting in increases in pay rates is a factor that improves the quality of life for employees in all fields and makes Utah an even more attractive environment for workers in all sectors.

“When the bottom goes up, everyone goes up too,” Jeanfreau said. “From an economic point of view, they are all linked. Positive upward economic mobility concerns everyone.


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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion