Jobless rate spikes, but at lower level

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate spiked once again in January in Mesa County, but at its lowest level for the month in seven years.

While layoffs from seasonal positions and energy industry payrolls have pushed up the jobless rate, there also are indications local labor conditions could continue to improve this year, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

“I always love to be optimistic, but we’re just going to have to monitor how things go for the next few months,” Miller said.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County jumped 1.3 points to 6 percent in January. The jobless rate in Mesa County typically climbs to its highest level of the year in the first month of the year.

Still, the latest rate is lower than the 8.3 percent rate in January 2014 and the lowest level for the month since the rate stood at just 4.1 percent in January 2008, Miller said.

For January 2015, Mesa County payrolls dropped 4,198 from the benchmarked numbers for December to 68,127. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 782 to 4,328. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 3,416 to 72,455.

Over the past year, payrolls have retreated 1,432 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 1,962. The overall labor force has decreased 3,394.

In a separate measure of labor demand, 375 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in January, Miller said. That’s down from the 476 job orders posted for the same month in 2014, but up from the 242 orders posted in January 2013.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased with 310 in January 2015 and 352 in February 2015, Miller said.

At the same time, though, Miller said she expects hiring activity to soon increase, especially for seasonal jobs in the hospitality sector and for landscaping companies. Demand has remained steady for manufacturing jobs as well as positions in transportation, maintenance and sales. “We’re seeing just a broad spectrum of jobs come in.”

Other economic indicators also signal improving conditions in Mesa County, she said, in particular higher sales tax collections that reflect increased spending.

That gives Miller hope labor conditions will continue to improve, albeit slowly, in 2015.

Last year, the unemployment rate spiked at 8.3 percent in January, but fell to a low of 4.1 percent in October before climbing up to 4.7 percent in December. “We just chunked away at it,” Miller said.

There’s a possibility the same situation could occur this year, she added.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in January, up 2.5 points to 7 percent in Delta County, up 1.3 points to 4.9 percent in Garfield County, up 1.7 points to 6.7 percent in Montrose County and up 2.9 points to 6.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 4.2 percent, down 1.6 points from January 2014.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado increased 71,100 with the biggest gains in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors. Payrolls increased 3.3 percent in Colorado in 2014, higher than the 1.9 percent job growth nationwide.

Revised labor statistics show Colorado lost 155,400 payroll jobs between May 2008 and January 2010. But full recovery occurred in March 2013, when total nonfarm payrolls topped the May 2008 peak at 2,363,500.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls dropped six-tenths of an hour to 33.6 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 57 cents to $26.61.