How Seasonal is Your Economy?



By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist


“Excess generally causes reaction, and produces a change in the opposite direction, whether it be in the seasons, or in individuals, or in governments.” –Plato


Utah’s counties experience the ebb and flow of seasonal employment differently

Seasonality is a common characteristic of employment data. Weather, vacations, holiday spending and school years can all affect the number of workers looking for work or the number of jobs that are available. Utah’s counties are affected differently by seasonality. Some county employment totals vacillate dramatically in a decided pattern throughout each year. In other counties, the changing seasons bring little variation to number of overall filled jobs. In another group of counties, summer and winter seasonality smooth the overall pattern.



Zig Zag

Counties with a high degree of seasonality display a distinctive zig-zag employment pattern as shown in the chart on the far right of the following visualization. Each year, employment rises and falls for a particular season-related reason.


Partially due to the nature of mathematics and percent change, less-populated counties top the list of those with the widest percent spread between high and low employment months. However, these seasonal counties also experience distinct numeric job peaks and valleys. Conversely, industrial diversity helps even out employment levels in Utah’s most populous counties.


Tourism

Rich, Garfield, Daggett, Grand, Wayne and Kane counties show the most apparent employment seasonality. In Rich County, the average difference in yearly peak and trough employment (2001-2018) registers a whopping 77 percent. Even in the least seasonal of these areas, Kane County, employment levels rise and fall by roughly 35 percent. These counties have more than just their seasonality in common; their economies are all heavily dependent on tourism. In the first heat-map chart, you’ll see that employment peaks in the summer (usually June) in each of these counties as vacationers visit lakes, national parks and other tourist attractions.


Although Washington County’s economy maintains a strong tourism component, its mild climate spreads out employment more evenly throughout the year compared with many other high-tourism areas.


The Outlier

Summit County, where skiing is king, stands alone among the highly seasonal counties. Its peak employment month is typically January. In fact, it is the only Utah county with January as its high-employment month. In most Utah counties, January ranks as the lowest employment month.


Holiday Spending

Several of the more populous counties experience their high-employment months in December as holiday spending hits an apex. In particular, Iron, Cache, Utah, Salt Lake and Weber counties all show their highest employment month at year end.


In the Details

As mentioned, many of the counties with seasonal employment patterns are heavily devoted to tourism. Because the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) doesn’t specifically code tourism-related employment, economists typically use employment in the leisure/hospitality industry as a proxy for tourism-related jobs. However, it becomes abundantly clear that other industries’ employment also ebb and flow with tourism season. In particular, retail trade and financial services (real estate management) also generally show a decided seasonal component for these tourism-dependent counties.


That’s Not All

Although Utah’s highly populated counties may not show a strong overall seasonal pattern in employment, their individual industries do. For example, construction shows a cold-weather-related seasonal pattern. Retail trade employment is also very seasonal, typically peaking in December. Government employment also seasonally tracks, partially due to the fact that public-education staff is typically off work during the summer months. In Utah County, private education/health/social services (e.g., Brigham Young University) also shows a distinct seasonal pattern. Finally, covered agriculture also shows a seasonal pattern that characteristically tops out at prime harvest time.