Teleworking helped keep Utah's economy afloat in pandemic, study says

Posted at 5:35 PM, Apr 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-13 19:46:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A new analysis by Utah's Department of Workforce Services finds that teleworking has helped keep the state's economy afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency recently published a breakdown of "The Great Experiment," as DWS Chief Economist Mark Knold calls it.

"We were all forced to have to do this," he said in an interview with FOX 13 on Tuesday.

Using survey data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Knold said they've watched how a dramatic expansion of teleworking impacted Utah.

"What we saw is instantly about 35% of the national workers had been shifted from working somewhere outside of the house, now inside the house," he said.

The biggest months for teleworking were in April and May of last year. It has started to wane as sectors of the economy re-open.

"It’s still overall about 20-25% of the workers are teleworking," Knold said.

The biggest teleworking demographics are women, older people and those who are highly educated.

"Men are very dominant in industries that cannot telecommute. Mining, construction, manufacturing," Knold said.

Economically, Utah's employment agency said teleworking has kept sectors going.

"If this was an environment 20 years ago when we didn’t have the tools to be able to do this? The advancements in computers, the internet, security around those, we would have had to make a real hard choice," he said. "Shut the economy down even more than we did, or we can’t afford to shut the economy down and we’ll have to live with the consequences."

The state of Utah was experimenting with telework long before the COVID-1`9 pandemic hit. Then-Lt. Governor Spencer Cox championed it. This year, the Utah State Legislature passed a bill to classify every single state employee based on whether their job allows them to telework or not. The bill was originally designed to work on days when air quality is bad, but is expected to expand beyond that.

"There is a group of people who actually prefer, given the option between being in the office and teleworking, they’ll choose teleworking. I’m one of those," said Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who sponsored the bill.

He said the Utah Department of Workforce Services' data is promising.

"It’s really impressive when you look at the data, to realize how much the ability to telework really changed and saved our economy," he said.