Monday, April 27, 2015

Emery 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.
  • Year-over payroll employment in Emery County shrank 1.3 percent in fourth quarter 2014 after falling 3.5 percent in the third quarter. The decline was driven by the goods-producing industries, which fell 6.5 percent (52 jobs). Mining continues to shed jobs, losing an annual average of 59 jobs compared to fourth quarter 2013. Private-sector, service-providing employment grew slightly during this period, adding 22 jobs over the year.
  • Despite declining 0.8 percentage points since last year, Emery County continued to have a relatively high seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate of 4.6 percent in March. Job growth has been stagnant for several quarters; and with the closure of the Deer Creek coal mine (located just outside of Huntington), it is unlikely that the jobless rate will sustain its downward trajectory. 
  • The number of Emery County residents filing initial unemployment claims fell to pre-recession lows in the first quarter 2015. Average weekly claims decreased 21.8 percent compared to the first quarter of 2014. The average number of initial weekly unemployment claims will spike once Deer Creek mine closes.
  • Average monthly wage growth in fourth quarter 2014 bounced back from its decline in third quarter, growing 12.4 percent from 2013. The increase in average wages shows that the jobs lost during the year were lower paying than the jobs retained, which has a skewing effect on the average. In mining for example, average wages increased by nearly $3,300 per month after losing 59 employees.
  • Fourth quarter 2014 taxable sales in Emery County decreased (1.1 percent) for the first time in six quarters. The largest loss in year-over taxable sales came from adjustments to sales from previous quarter, a correction that does not represent actual economic activity in the quarter. With prior-period adjustment removed, the county saw positive taxable sales of $1.3 million.