Mesa County jobless rate drops to lowest level since 2008

Phil Castle

Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa Country has dropped to its lowest level in more than eight years on a combination of an increase in payrolls and decrease in the ranks of the unemployed.

While it’s too early to tell if the local labor market has begun to recover in earnest, the outlook is more encouraging, said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We’ll give it a couple of months and see where it goes, but it sure is exciting.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County fell 1.5 points to 3.8 percent in March, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That’s the lowest level in Mesa County since the jobless rate stood at 3.8 percent in October 2008, Kirnberger said. At this time last year, the rate was 6.5 percent.

For March, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,043 to 68,518. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 1,050 to 2,714. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged down seven to 71,232.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 910 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,989. The labor force has dropped 1,079 and remains well below a peak of 84,000 in November 2009.

Kirnberger said the latest labor estimates correspond with separate measures of labor demand and unemployment benefits.

For March, 563 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, she said. That’s up nearly 26 percent from the same month last year. For the first quarter of 2017, 1,508 job orders were posted. That’s a gain of almost 20 percent over the first quarter of 2016.

While labor demand remains strongest for openings in health care, Kirnberger said there’s been increasing demand in other sectors as well. “It seems like it’s been pretty across the board, and that’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, 165 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County during March, Kirnberger said. That’s about half the number of claims filed for the same month last year. For the first quarter of 2017, 587 claims were filed. That’s nearly a 40 percent drop from the first quarter of 2016. “All those job orders are turning into people being employed,” she said.

Kirnberger said she hopes the monthly unemployment rate remains low in coming months, although the jobless rate typically spikes in June. The extent of an increase that month also could serve as an indication of how much labor conditions have improved, she added.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in March: 1.9 points to 4.3 percent in Rio Blanco County, 1.6 points to 4.1 percent in Delta County, 1.5 points to 3.4 percent in Montrose County and 1.1 points tor 2.7 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate retreated another three-tenths of a point to 2.6 percent in March. That’s the lowest level since the statistical series began in 1976.

Nonfarm payrolls were essentially unchanged between February and March in holding at 2,634,400. Employment gains in the leisure and hospitality, financial activities and education and health services sectors offset losses in the construction and professional and business services sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has declined seven-tenths of a point even as nonfarm payrolls have increased 49,100. The largest year-over-year gains have occurred in the education and health services; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Employment has declined in the mining and logging, manufacturing and information sectors.

Over the past year, the average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has decreased a half hour to 32.8 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 4 cents to $27.35.

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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