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June jobless jump: Seasonal increase takes Mesa County rate to 9.7 percent

David Porfirio

The unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped in June, continuing what’s long been a pattern for the month.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County climbed to 9.7 percent. The latest rate is up eight-tenths from a revised 8.9 percent for May, but remains below the 10.2 percent reported at this time last year.

The June gain reverses what had been two months of declines, but isn’t unusual. Jobless rates usually increase in Mesa County in June, even when labor demand is strong.

David Porfirio, manager of business services at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, attributed the situation in part to the influx of high school and college students looking for summer jobs during June. Unfortunately, fewer of those jobs have available for the last two years, he said.

For June 2010, the overall work force in Mesa County was estimated at 78,614, with 7,592 counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work. Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have dropped 3,237. But the ranks of the unemployed also have decreased — by 827.

Porfirio said CDLE estimates count only those people receiving unemployment insurance benefits — and not those whose benefits have expired or don’t receive benefits. He estimated the number of people unsuccessfully looking for work in Mesa County at between 8,000 and 9,500.

Around 9,200 people are registered as job applicants at the center on a given day, while 155 job orders are posted there. That’s about 60 applicants for every job order, a ratio Porfirio considers high even for the aftermath of a recession.

Nonetheless, there’s measurable labor demand in some industry sectors, especially in what Porfirio deems the “sweet six” sectors of office and administration, transportation, health care, sales and customer service, food service and hospitality and maintenance.

Moreover, the increasing number of drilling rigs in the Piceance Basin of Western Colorado indicates the energy sector is picking up as well, he said.

For those people who complete training and internships through programs offered at the Mesa County Workforce Center, the job placement rate over the past year has hit 86 percent, Porfirio said.

Overall, though, Porfirio said he doesn’t anticipate a substantial change in the Mesa County labor market for the remainder of 2010. “It looks pretty flat.”

For June, unadjusted unemployment rates rose three-tenths in three neighboring Western Colorado counties, climbing to 8.7 percent in Delta County, 10.2 percent in Montrose County and 6 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate slipped a tenth to 8.8 percent in Garfield County.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado remained unchanged at 8 percent for a third straight month. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.3 percent.

According to the latest results of a monthly survey of businesses, nonfarm payrolls slipped 1,800 as cuts in temporary government census jobs offset gains in five of 11 major industry sectors.

Government employment declined 8,600, while payrolls in the information and manufacturing sectors fell 200 and 100, respectively.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector rose 4,000, while education and health services added a net 1,500 jobs. The trade, transportation and utilities sector added a net 1,100 positions, while professional and business services added 300 jobs. The financial activities and mining and logging sectors each added 200. The construction sector has gone two consecutive months without a decline for the first time in three years.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have decreased 31,200, or 1.4 percent, in Colorado.

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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