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Mesa County jobless rate moves higher, but openings harder to fill

While the unemployment rate moves higher in Mesa County, a combination of a shrinking work force and increasing labor demand has actually made it more difficult for some employers to fill job openings.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped four-tenths to 10.3 percent in June. With increases in each of the last two months, the jobless rate has climbed to its highest level since hitting 11.1 percent in March.

Suzie Miller, an employment specialist with the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, attributed part of the June bump to a seasonal influx of college and high school students searching for summer jobs.

But the “bigger story,” Miller said, is a continued downward trend in the size of the work force as people move out of Mesa County to find employment elsewhere.

According to the latest CDLE estimates, the employed labor force in the county dropped 588 from May to June to 67,941. The employed labor force has decreased 3,106 over the past year. The overall work force, which includes those counted among the employed and unemployed, fell 309 from May to June to 75,775. The overall work force has declined 3,475 over the past year.

“That’s a pretty significant number,” Miller said. “We continue to see that go down.”

The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 279 to 7,834 in June. The number of unemployed has fallen over the last year, however, by 369.

At the same time the Mesa County work force has declined, labor demand has increased, Miller said. As of July 22, a total of 171 job orders had been posted during the month at the workforce center. That’s one of the highest numbers since 2007 and eclipses even prerecession levels in 2008, she said. “It’s quite an encouraging number.”

Demand is particularly strong for positions in the extraction, production, sales and transportation sectors, she said.

With a shallower labor pool from which to draw, some employers are encountering difficulting in finding qualified applicants to fill job openings, Miller said.

While Miller expects continued job growth in Mesa County in the months ahead, the changes probably won’t be substantial. “I think it’s going to be a pretty slow climb out of this yet.”

The latest labor estimates offered something of a mixed bag for four neighboring Western Colorado counties in June. Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates rose three-tenths to 9.4 percent in Delta County, fell six-tenths to 8.7 percent in Garfield County and remained unchanged at 10.6 percent in Montrose County and 5.7 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell another two-tenths in June to 8.5 percent with an estimated increase in nonfarm payrolls of 4,500.

With drops in each of the last four months, the Colorado jobless rate has retreated to its lowest level since November. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.8 percent.

For June, private-sector employment in the state rose 7,100 with gains in the leisure and hospitality, financial activities and professional and business service sectors. Government employment declined 2,600.

Wthin the private sector, job losses also were reported in the manufacturing sector.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 14,300 in Colorado with an increase of 19,300 jobs in the private sector and a decrease of 5,000 jobs in the government sector.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has slipped a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have dropped 9 cents to $23.54.

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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