SALT LAKE CITY (AP) â¿¿ Utah's unemployment rate has improved from the same time last year and remains much better than the national figure, new labor statistics show. The new numbers indicate that 5.4 percent of Utah's labor force was unemployed in January. That's down from 6 percent in January 2012, and marks a significant decrease from the 8.4 percent Utah reached in early 2010. The national unemployment rate is 7.9 percent. Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the decline in the unemployment rate in 2011-2012 was due mainly to people who stopped trying to find work. With the youngest labor force in the country, many young adults chose to get more education and ride out the recession, he said. But Knold said the improvement in the unemployment rate in the past year reflects the fact that more people are actually finding work. The increase of 37,800 jobs from the same time in 2012 comes across many sectors, he said. The 3.1 percent job growth over the past year marks the first time since 2007 the state has climbed back to the state's longtime average. "We finally got all the jobs back that were lost in the recession, but we're still in a big deficit," Knold said. "It's going to be a multi-year process to close the gap." It's possible Utah's unemployment rate may rise a bit in coming months as young adults who went back to college once again try to seek employment, Knold said. State-by-state rankings are not yet available for January, but Utah had the 9th-lowest unemployment rate in the nation as of December. North Dakota had the lowest at 3.2 percent. Rhode Island was at the bottom of the rankings, with an unemployment rate of 9.9 percent. The national unemployment rate of 7.9 percent is an improvement from the 10 percent peak during the recession, but still well above the 5 percent that policymakers strive for during good times.