Mesa County jobless rate spikes in January, but labor demand on the rise

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County spiked once again in January, labor demand as measured by a separate indicator since has increased to its highest level in four years.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate jumped nearly a full point in January to 9.6 percent.

However, the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction since the beginning of the year has topped 500, the most since 2008.

“That is, I would say, a very good barometer of what is happening,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the center.

January labor estimates lag farther behind reports for other months because of an annual review and adjustment process. With the changes, the jobless rate in Mesa County for December was revised downward from 9 percent to 8.7 percent. The overall work force in the county was revised upward nearly 2,000 from 77,246 to 79,208. The changes made the January increase in the jobless rate more pronounced, Miller said According to estimates for January, Mesa County payrolls decreased more than 1,000 to 71,269. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased nearly 700 to 7,565.  That put the overall work force at 78,834.

Miller said the unemployment rate typically increases to its highest point of the year in January in part because of layoffs following the holiday shopping season and inclement winter weather that hinders construction activity. Compared to January 2011, though, when the jobless rate stood at 11.4 percent, the latest rate constitutes an improvement, she said.

Moreover, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the center has increased since the beginning of the year, Miller said. As of March 13, 548 job orders had been posted year to date at the center, she said. Each order usually involves two or three job openings, sometimes more.

Compared to the same span over the past four years, the total so far for 2012 is the most since 2008, which Miller considers a prerecession benchmark.

Going by job orders, labor demand is spread out among a number of industry sectors, including not only extraction and transportation, but also production and office administration.

Miller said there’s a growing sense labor conditions are improving and there are more opportunities for those looking for jobs. She expects that trend to continue. “We do hope we kind of continue to see the small improvements and we’ll crawl out of the higher-than-normal unemployment rate.”

  Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also spiked in neighboring Western Colorado counties in January, rising to 9.7 percent in Delta County, 8.5 percent in Garfield County, 11.1 percent in Montrose County and 6.4 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth to 7.8 percent with an estimated increase of 19,500 nonfarm payroll jobs in January.

Private-sector payrolls rose an estimated 22,500 with gains in the construction, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors. Government payrolls fell 3,000.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown an estimated 43,400 in Colorado with gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors. Government payrolls fell 1,100.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased seven-tenths of an hour to 35 hours over the past year, while average hourly earnings increased 41 cents to $24.52.

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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