Jobless rate edges up from record low

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has crept up, but still remains near record-low levels.

A year-over-year decrease in the jobless rate combined with an increase in the labor force bodes well, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “2019 has been a really good year from a local economic standpoint.”

Curtis Englehart

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate climbed to 2.8 percent in October, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That’s up three-tenths of a point from 2.5 percent in September, the lowest level in Mesa County for county level statistics going back to 1990.

Not counting September,  the October rate still matches the lowest level since May 2007.  For October 2018, the rate stood more than a point higher at 3.9 percent.

Englehart said the numbers upon which the unemployment rate is calculated changed little between September and October. “This is about a static a month as you can get when the numbers are this low.”

For October 2019, Mesa County payrolls decreased 218 to 76,120. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 184 to 2,177. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 34 to 78,297.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,553 — or about 2 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 845. The labor force has grown 708 to pass the 78,000 milestone, but remains below the peak of 84,000 in 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center constitutes something of a mixed bag.

Englehart said 650 job orders were posted in October, up 24 from the same month last year. Through the first 10 months of 2019, however, 6,543 orders were posted. That’s down 564 from the same span in 2018. While there were fewer job orders
year-to-date, more job openings were involved, he said. Each order usually advertises two or three openings.

Demand remains strong for job openings in construction, health care and manufacturing, Englehart said. Demand has increased for jobs in retail and hospitality as part of seasonal hiring for the holidays.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased 26 to 206 in October compared to the same month last year. But claims were down 55 to 1,589 for the first 10 months of 2019 compared to the same span in 2018.

Looking ahead, Englehart said the monthly jobless rate could creep a bit higher in November and December, but the labor market remains robust. “We’re definitely going to finish the year out strong.”

While there have been layoffs in the energy sector, hiring in other sectors has offset those losses. Moreover, many of those who’ve lost jobs in the energy sector have transferable skills that serve them well in other sectors, he said.

Englehart said he’s been most encouraged by less volatility in the Mesa County labor market and slow, but steady, improvement in trends. The labor force, for example, has grown 8,000 over the past two years. “Over time, it’s really added up to a lot of people coming into Mesa County.”

That influx has helped in meeting increased labor demand, he added.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in October: up a tenth of a point to 2.3 percent in Montrose County, up two-tenths of a point to
2.5 percent in Delta County and up three-tenths of a point to 2.3 percent in Garfield County and 3.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged down a tenth of a point to 2.6 percent, tied for lowest level for state-level statistics going back to 1976. Nonfarm payrolls increased 3,100 between September and October as private sector hiring exceeded government layoffs.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate dropped a point. Nonfarm payrolls increased 52,700 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened three-tenths of an hour to 33 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings increased $1.03 to $30.58.