BREAKING NEWS: Mesa County jobless rate drops to a nearly five-year low

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has tumbled to its lowest level in nearly five years as an increase in seasonal hiring puts more people to work.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County fell to 7 percent in October.

That’s a half point lower than September, two points lower than June and the lowest reading since the rate stood at 6.4 percent in January 2009.

At this time last year, the jobless rate stood at 8.3 percent.

Moreover, the Mesa County unemployment rate moved below the national jobless rate of 7.3 percent and remained only slightly higher than the Colorado rate of 6.8 percent.

“It’s certainly going in the right direction right now,” said Sue Tuffin, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Jobless rates similarly fell in neighboring Western Colorado counties, while the statewide seasonally adjusted rate slipped a tenth of a point.

The labor estimates are the first to come from the state department in two months after a federal government shutdown in October delayed the process of surveying businesses and households and compiling the results.

Tuffin said she’s been “holding her breath” waiting to see the latest statistical snapshot of the local labor market. The picture was a relief, she said. “It really looks good.”

In Mesa County, payrolls increased 304 to 72,594 in October while the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 456 to 5,442. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, retreated 122 to 78,036.

Over the past year, payrolls and the overall work force have declined, but so have the ranks of the unemployed.

Tuffin said an increase in seasonal hiring in September and October was even stronger than she had anticipated. Hiring for additional holiday staffing starts in October to provide time for training.

While the downward trend in unemployment offers encouragement, the question of whether or not the trend can be sustained will be answered in part in January, Tuffin said. That’s when the unemployment rate typically spikes. A small increase could indicate improving conditions, while a big jump could suggest the recovery remains slow.

For October, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates dropped three-tenths of a point in three neighboring Western Colorado counties:  to 8.2 percent in Montrose County, 7.2 percent in Delta County and 5.9 percent in Garfield County. The jobless rate fell a half point to 4.8 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 6.8 percent, the lowest level since the rate stood at 6.9 percent in January 2009. At this time last year, the state rate was 7.7 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 1,500 with private sector gains more than offsetting decreases in government employment. The largest gains occurred in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors. The construction; information; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors lost jobs.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 45,600 with the largest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors. Employment declined in the financial activities and information sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls decreased four-tenths of an hour to 34.6 hours over the past year. But average hourly earned increased $1.11 to $25.72.