June jobless rate jumps again in Mesa County

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The June jobless rate jumped again in Mesa County — a seasonal increase that reflects in part the high school and college graduates who’ve joined the labor force, but haven’t yet landed jobs.

But even as the monthly unemployment rate increased, so did the overall labor force in topping 78,000 for the first time in six years.

“I still feel like we’re on a really good track here,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate increased seven tenths of a point to 3.6 percent. The jobless rate stood higher at this time last year, though, at 4.1 percent.

For June 2019, Mesa County payrolls decreased 94 to 75,290. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 590 to 2,843. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 496 to 78,133.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 2,320 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 292. The labor force has grown 2,028 — nearly 2.7 percent.

Englehart said the monthly unemployment rate usually increases in Mesa County in June as high school and college graduates start hunting for jobs. “It’s historically what we’ve seen.”

The labor market continues to improve over the long term, he said, with a growing labor force and lower jobless rate. The last time the labor force topped 78,000 in 2013, the jobless rate ranged from 6.9 percent to 9.2 percent.

One measure of labor demand has decreased, though, in the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center. For June, 602 job orders were posted, down nearly 13.4 percent from the same month last year. Through the first half of 2019, 3,810 job orders were posted. That’s down 12.3 percent from the first half of 2018 in part because of what was a comparably milder winter last year, Englehart said.

At the same time, initial claims for unemployment benefits also have decreased in Mesa County. For June, 128 claims were filed, down almost 18.5 percent from the same month last year. Through the first of 2019, 941 claims were filed. That’s a decrease of 6 percent from the first half of 2018.

Looking ahead to the second half of 2019, Englehart said he expects labor conditions to continue to improve.

The announcement the Bureau of Land Management plans to relocate its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction constitutes a “huge win” for the Grand Valley that proves what collaborative community efforts can accomplish, he said.

Still, a tighter labor market will make it more difficult for businesses to recruit and retain qualified workers.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June: six-tenths of a point to 4.1 percent in Rio Blanco County, a half point to 3.4 percent in Delta County, two-tenths of a point to 3 percent in Montrose County and a tenth of a point to 2.7 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated two-tenths of a point to 3 percent as an increase in the number of people who reported themselves as employed topped the increase in those participating in the labor force. Nonfarm payrolls swelled 8,100.

Over the past year, the state jobless rate has dropped two-tenths of a point. Nonfarm payrolls have increased 52,800 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and educational and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls lengthened four-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.3 hours. Averagely hourly earnings increased $1.56 to $30.22.