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Mesa County labor trend remains flat

The end of 2010 found the Mesa County labor market in the same place as when the year began: with the monthly unemployment rate in double digits.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the unadjusted jobless rate rose four-tenths to 10.2 percent in December. That matches the rate in January 2010.

For all of 2010, the monthly unemployment rate varied only 1.4 points — from a high of 10.3 percent in March to a low of
8.9 percent in May.

For December, the estimated labor force in Mesa County fell 236 to 77,882. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 287 to 7,958. Since December 2009, the work force has shrunk 992, while the ranks of the unemployed have increased 874.

Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, attributed the rise in unemployment in December in part to flat hiring for the holiday season. “We didn’t get the hiring that we usually have during the holidays.”

While some employers hired a few seasonal workers, most businesses simply extended the work hours of their existing staffs, he said.
Lujan sees some encouraging signs in the Mesa County labor market, however, including the number of job orders posted at the center. That number has ranged from 150 to 160 over the past four to five months, about double the levels of two to three years ago, he said. “It’s been steady, which is good to see.”

Labor demand has remained strong in the health care sector, he said, while some hiring has occurred in the construction and extraction sectors.

Given that Mesa County lagged behind other areas of Colorado and the nation in entering the recession, Lujan expects the county to continue to lag behind in the  ensuing recovery. He just hopes it doesn’t take too long for the labor market to turn around.

For December, unemployment rates also rose in three neighboring counties: up five-tenths to 9.7 percent in Delta County, up three-tenths to 9.4 percent in Garfield County and up six-tenths to 11.2 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate remained unchanged at 6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths to 8.8 percent in December. With increases in each of the last five months, the jobless rate hit its highest level of 2010 in the final month of the year.

At the same time, however, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado posted their first year-over-year gain in more than two years.

According to the latest results of a monthly survey of Colorado businesses, nonfarm payrolls rose 500 in December with gains in three industry sectors.

Employment in the leisure and hospitality sector increased by a net 2,700 jobs. The trade, transportation and utility sector added a net 1,200 positions. Payrolls rose 800 in the eduction and health services sector.

Employment declined in six other sectors, falling 1,100 in government, 900 each in financial services and manufacturing, 500 in construction, 400 in information and 100 in mining and logging.

Over the past year, nonfarm payroll employment in Colorado has increased 5,100, a gain of two-tenths of a percent.

Employment increased in four industry sectors: up 9,600 in education and health services; up 6,200 in leisure and hospitality; up 3,800 in professional and business services; and up 1,400 in trade, transportation and utilities.

Five other sectors posted losses over the past year, led by a decline of 5,700 in construction payrolls.

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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