BREAKING: Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The Mesa County unemployment rate has resumed its downward trend, but still has a ways to go to match lower state and national rates.

At 8.3 percent, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County in July was seven-tenths of a point lower than June and 1.3 points lower than this time last year.

While the decrease brought the jobless rate for a July to its lowest level in five years, Mesa County continues to lag behind other areas that have recovered more fully, said Suzi Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We still haven’t caught up with the state or national rates.”

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado edged up a tenth of a point in July, but stood at 7.1 percent. The U.S. jobless rate was slightly higher at 7.4 percent.

In Mesa County, the unemployment rate has retreated in five out of the last seven months in falling nearly a point from 9.2 percent in January. A spike in June that took the jobless rate back up to 9 percent was attributed in part to a seasonal influx of people searching for summer work.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment for July, the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 600 to 6,499. Payrolls declined 207 to 71,617. The overall labor force, which includes the unemployed and employed, fell 807 to 78,116.

Over the past year, the rolls of the unemployed have dropped 1,031 even as payrolls have increased 428. The overall labor force has shrunk 603.

Miller said new filings for unemployment benefits increased 65 to 282 in July, but that number remains lower than what was recorded for the month in the last three years.

Moreover, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since 2008, she said.

The 286 job orders posted during July were more, in fact, than the 242 orders posted in July 2008, before the full effects of downturns in the energy sector and overall economy were felt. The 1,877 job orders posted at the center through the first seven months of 2013 also were the most for the span since 2008.

While there’s a correlation between job orders and the jobless rate, Miller said she wished the correlation was stronger. In July 2008, the unemployment rate stood at 4.1 percent.

Miller said she’s hopeful the jobless rate will continue downward even as demand remains strong in the construction, hospitality and transportation sectors. But forecasting trends one way or another remains difficult. “There’s not a whole lot of stability in the business outlook right now.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also retreated in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in July, falling eight-tenths of a point to 6.9 percent in Delta County and 5.2 percent in Rio Blanco County, dropping nine-tenths of  point to 6.4 percent in Garfield County and 1.3 points to 8.6 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted rate has dropped a point over the past year, but varied only four-tenths of a point so far in 2013.

Statewide, nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 7,600 in July as a gain of 10,900 jobs in the private sector more than offset a loss of 3,300 government jobs. Employment increased in the construction; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have increased 63,400 with the biggest gains in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

During the same span, the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has shortened by an hour to 34.6 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 83 cents to $25.55.


Phil Castle is editor of the Grand Valley Business Times, a twice-monthly business journal published in Grand Junction. Castle brings to his duties nearly 30 years of experience in editorial management positions with Western Colorado newspapers. In addition, his free-lance work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Washington Post. He holds a bachelor's degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University.
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