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Mesa County jobless rate edges up

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has increased even as payrolls and the overall labor force have decreased.

Employers seem a little more hesitant to hire and some of those looking for work have given up on job hunts for now, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “Everything might just be on hold a little bit.”

Suzie Miller

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged up a tenth of a point in November to 8.4 percent. The latest jobless rate matches that of a year ago.

According to CDLE estimates, the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work in November actually fell — by five to 6,771. But payrolls dropped 1,104 to 73,627. And the overall labor force, which includes both the unemployed and employed, fell 1,109 to 80,398.

Hiring activity has slowed, Miller said, possibly as a result of uncertainty over the so-called “fiscal cliff” of higher taxes and automatic federal sending cuts scheduled to kick in at the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, some people could have given up on job searches, figuring they’ll get a fresh start in 2013.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has lagged in recent months, Miller said. While 136 job orders were posted at the center in November, 199 were posted during the same month last year. Each job order usually involves two or more openings, sometimes more.

Taking a long-term perspective, though, labor conditions have slowly improved in Mesa County, Miller said.

According to the CDLE, payrolls have increased 688 over the past year, a gain of almost 1 percent. The overall work force has increased 789.

Meanwhile, labor demand as measured by job orders has climbed to its highest level since 2008. Through Dec. 21, 2,705 job orders had been posted at the center during 2012, slightly ahead of the same span in 2011 and well ahead of the numbers for 2010 and 2009.

Interest from employers in a job fair the center has scheduled for Feb.

5 remains strong, Miller said, particularly from firms that will be gearing up for seasonal hiring in spring. “That’s an encouraging sign.”

Miller said there’s hope what’s typically a spike in the unemployment rate in Mesa County in January won’t be as pronounced.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates also increased in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in November: up three-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in Rio Blanco County and 7.9 percent in Delta County and up four-tenths of a point to 9.9 percent in Montrose County.

The jobless rate held steady at 7.3 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a point to 7.7 percent, although a decline in the number of people counted as participating in the work force topped the decline in the number of those counted as unsuccessfully looking for work.

According to CDLE estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 8,000 with 7,000 net new jobs in the private sector and another 1,000 government positions. The largest employment gains were reported in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services and education and health care sectors.

Over the past year, Colorado payrolls have grown 51,800 with a net gain of 48,200 jobs in the private sector.

During that same span, the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.8 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 64 cents to $24.75.

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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