Blog: The Role of Education in the Utah Economy

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Blog: The Role of Education in the Utah Economy

By: Andrea Thomas Brandley

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS.™

Education plays a crucial role in Utah’s economy. One of the most discussed contributions is workforce development—or educating and training students to be prepared to enter the labor force. Whether in preschool or graduate school, education helps Utahns expand their knowledge and build skills they can later apply in both their personal and professional lives.

In addition to this important impact, the education industry contributes to the Utah economy more directly through the number of people it employs and the wages they receive. Educational institutions not only employ teachers, but many non-instructional staff as well. Consider your local elementary school that hires teachers, librarians, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria staff, and secretaries. These positions create many employment opportunities. As a result, educational institutions make up five of the top ten employers statewide (Table 1).

Table 1: Utah’s Top Ten Employers, 2021

Education employers shown in bold.

Source: Utah Department of Workforce Services

Utah’s Department of Workforce Service (DWS) tracks employment using the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which counts employees based on the industry an employee works in, regardless of their occupation.[1]  In 2022, the education industry (public and private) employed 173,695 Utahns earning a total of $8.3 billion in wages.[2] This amounts to about one in 10 Utah employees and 8.1% of statewide payroll. These employees then spend their wages in the local economy, supporting businesses and indirectly supporting additional economic activity.

One of the top three employers in every Utah county is a school district or postsecondary institution. In all but Kane and Summit counties, a school district or postsecondary institution is one of the top two employers. The education industry’s share of total county employment ranges from 4.2% in Grand County to 25.9% in Piute County (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Utah Education Industry’s Share of County Employment, 2022

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages

As the school year kicks off and students of all ages head to classrooms, many Utahns are working hard both in the classroom and behind the scenes to keep schools running. The teachers, principals, and librarians along with the bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria staff all come together to create a learning environment to help students thrive. Their employment and wages support Utah’s economy today and their impact on students will continue to support the state for years to come.

Andrea Thomas Brandley is the senior education analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and a former teacher in Utah’s K-12 public schools.


[1] Data is collected through the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program. These data come from reports submitted by employers to the Utah Unemployment Insurance program. Self-employed workers are not included.

[2] Department of Workforce Services. Utah Economic Data Viewer. Industry Employment and Wages.