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Rural Utahns hit hardest by unemployment

FILE - In this April 24, 2015, file photo, pumpjacks work in a field (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

UTAH — Overall, Utah is doing much better than the rest of the United States when it comes to unemployment.  But, some of the rural areas of the state are struggling with unemployment more than others.

The data from the Department of Workforce Services was compiled by the Utah Foundation who says while a total of 150,000 people filed new unemployment claims over the last seven weeks, there are still 100,000 people who continue to file each week.

Utah Foundation Vice President Shawn Teigen says that’s because many of those original filers are now going back to work.  

Many counties in rural Utah have an uphill battle

Counties like San Juan, Piutte or Uintah, that rely almost exclusively on income from tourists or oil means there aren’t many options for workers that lose their job or are furloughed. 

“The oil output in Uintah county was already in decline before the coronavirus pandemic hit.  Now, it’s down to a trickle,” Teigen says.

That, coupled with no tourists staying in hotels or eating in restaurants means little to no money coming in for the residents. 

A bright spot?

Teigen does say there is somewhat of a silver lining to the high unemployment in these rural areas.  People who file for unemployment are receiving an additional $600 a week from the federal government as part of the CARES Act which is helping those hit by the pandemic.

But, that extra benefit runs out in a couple of months.  Or if workers don’t go back to work, when a job is available, they could lose all their unemployment compensation.

“And,” Teigen adds “undocumented workers are a large part of the economy on farms and janitorial staff and they never qualified for unemployment.”

Currently, the unemployment rate in the United States is 14.7% overall, but, Teigen said Utah’s diverse economy, mostly concentrated across the Wasatch Front, kept Utah’s unemployment rate at 6.2% for April.