Despite June jobless jump, labor demand strong in Mesa County

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has spiked once again on a seasonal influx of people searching for summer jobs. Labor demand remains strong, however, with increases in posted job openings.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County jumped four-tenths of a point to 9.4 percent in June.

While the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased, even more people joined the labor force, many of them college and high school students looking for summer jobs.

The Mesa County unemployment rate nearly always increases from May to June, even during periods when hiring is strong and the labor market tight. “It’s cylical and seasonal,” said Sue Tuffin, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates, Mesa County payrolls grew 544 to 73,626. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 412 to 7,678. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 956 to 81,304.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 2,868, an increase of 4 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have edged down 211. The overall work force has grown 2,657. At this time last year, the unemployment rate stood at 10 percent.

Despite the June jump in joblessness, the long-term trend in the Mesa County labor market has been one of slow, but steady, growth, Tuffin said. “We want slow and steady.”

In fact, nonfarm payrolls have grown faster on a proportional basis over the past year in Mesa County than in other metropolitan areas of Colorado.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since 2008, Tuffin said.

As of July 19, 242 job orders were posted at the center, seeking applicants for a total of 701 job openings, Tuffin said. At the same date last year, 220 job orders accounting for a total of 380 jobs were posted.

Through July 19, 1,832 job orders for a total of 3,708 openings have been posted at the center this year. During the same span last year, 1,663 orders for a total of of 3,055 jobs were posted. “Everything is a definite improvement from last year,” Tuffin said.

Labor demand has been strongest for health care, sales and office administration jobs, she said, but less so for the construction and manufacturing sectors. Tuffin said she expects overall labor demand to remain strong. “We’re projecting and feeling that it will, and we’re hoping it will.”

And now that Mesa County has experienced its annual June jump, Tuffin said she expects the jobless rate to head back down. “I’m hoping as we go through the rest of the year, the unemployment rate will inch down.”

Meanwhile, labor trends were mixed in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth to 8.4 percent in Delta County, but fell three-tenths to 8.2 percent in Garfield County and two-tenths to 10.5 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate remained unchanged at 5.6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth to 8.2 percent as more people entered the work force without a corresponding increase in hiring. With gains in each of the last three months, the statewide jobless rate has climbed to its highest level this year. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.4 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls fell an estimated 6,900 as private-sector employment decreased 5,200 and government employment dropped 1,700. The construction, education and health services and manufacturing sectors all reported job losses over the month, more than offsetting gains in the information sector.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 33,600 in Colorado with the biggest gains in the construction, education and health services and professional and business services sectors. Employment in the infomation sector has declined.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has lengthened 30 minutes to 35 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 93 cents to $24.46.