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Mesa County jobless rate spikes in January, but conditions improving

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped in January to nearly 12 percent. But local labor conditions have improved since then.

“Everything is really not that dark and gloomy,” said Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The number of job applicants registered at the center has declined even as the number of job orders posted there has increased to its highest level in six months, Lujan said.

The news was considerably less encouraging in January, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). January jobless numbers are delayed as part of annual state revisions of labor statistics. February figures are scheduled for release on March 25.

For January, the unadjusted monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped 1.5 points to 11.9 percent. That would have been one of the highest rates in decades were it not for the latest revision to 2010 estimates. The benchmarked rate for January 2010 was even higher at 12 percent.

Lujan said the January 2011 figure accurately reflected conditions at the time in part because of the seasonal spike in joblessness that occurs after the holiday season. Moreover, a growing number of  the unemployed have become discouraged and given up looking for work, he said.

According to the CDLE estimates, the overall work force in Mesa County edged up 145 to 77,715 in January even as the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work surged nearly 1,200 to 9,270.

In January 2010, the overall work force was larger at 78,608, but so was the number of unemployed at 9,421.

Labor conditions have improved in Mesa County this year according to two measures Lujan tracks at the center: job applicants and job orders. The number of job applicants registered at the center had topped 10,000, but since has fallen to 8,700. While the number of job orders posted at the center had remained in a range of 120 to 140, more than 200 orders are now posted there, he said.

Labor demand has picked up in the construction, extraction and transportation sectors as well as for office and administrative positions, he said. The upturn in job openings for local truck drivers constitutes an indicator of improving economic conditions, he added. “The local economy is starting to pick up a little.”

Meanwhile, labor demand has held steady in the health care and production sectors.

Lujan expects labor demand to continue to increase as warmer weather brings with it more job openings with seasonal businesses.

Some business owners who are hiring have reported difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates. Lujan said that could be one effect of discouraged job seekers who might be qualified for the positions, but have given up on active job searches.

For January, unadjusted jobless rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties: up 1.8 points to 11.5 percent in Delta County, up 1.3 points to 10.8 percent in Garfield County, up two points to 13 percent in Montrose County and up 1.7 points to 7.6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemploment rate rose two-tenths to 9.1 percent even though nonfarm payrolls grew 2,200.

Net employment increased in professional and business services as well as in education and health services and the trade, transportation and utilites sector. Those gains more than offset decline in the construction, information and leisure and leisure and hospitality sectors.

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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