Jobless rate retreats, but layoffs could affect trend

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level so far this year.

But recent layoffs could affect the downward trend, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. People who’ve recently lost their jobs should start looking now for new positions before their unemployment benefits run out, Miller advised. “Take on the full-time job of finding a full-time job now. Don’t wait.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped a half point to 5.4 percent in August. Combined with a six-tenths of a point drop in July, the jobless rate has slipped to its lowest level of this year. At this time last year, the rate was slightly higher at 5.5 percent.

For August 2015, Mesa County payrolls increased 400 to 69,105. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 352 to 3,920. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 46 to 73,025.

Over the past year, payrolls have slipped 149 even as the ranks of the unemployed have declined 81. The overall work force has shrunk 230 and remains well below the peak work force in Mesa County of  84,000 in November 2009.

Miller said the unemployment rate typically falls in Mesa County in August en route to the lowest levels of the year. “If this is any indication, that’s a good thing.”

But Miller tempers her outlook because of recent layoffs in the energy sector and other industry sectors, the effects of which could show up in the fourth quarter of this year and the first quarter of next year as people exhaust their severance pay and unemployment benefits. “We’re trying to brace for that and be proactive.”

A job fair scheduled for 8 a.m.to 3 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Mesa County Workforce Center could help with 35 employers actively recruiting new hires, she said.

A total of 242 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in August. That’s down 22 from July, but up 42 from August 2015, Miller said.

Through August, 2,270 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County. That’s up 384, or more than 20 percent, from the same span last year.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center held steady in August with 302 orders. That’s one more than the same month last year.

Through Sept. 18, 2,657 job orders had been posted at the center this year. That’s 60 more than the same span last year, Miller said.

While the unemployment rate continues to retreat in Mesa County, that rate in August was the second highest among seven metropolitan areas in Colorado, lower than only Pueblo at 5.6 percent. “I think we still have a long ways to go,” Miller said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also trended down in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in August, dropping two-tenths of a point to 5.5 percent in Delta County and 3.7 percent in Garfield County and three-tenth of a point to 4.8 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped  a tenth of a point to 4.2 percent in August as nonfarm payrolls grew 2,400. The largest gains were in the education and health services, professional and business services and construction sectors. The largest declines were in the leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has dropped four-tenths of a point as nonfarm payrolls have increased 47,000. The largest gains were in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and construction. Employment has declined in the professional and business services and information sectors.

Over the year, the average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls increased three-tenths of an hour to 34.8 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 98 cents to $26.99.