June jobless rate jumps in Mesa County

Phil Castle

The Business Times

Only a month after dipping below 8 percent for the first time in more than four years, the unemployment rate has climbed back to 9 percent in Mesa County.

But the gain has more to do with a seasonal influx in people searching for summer jobs than changing labor conditions. In fact, new filings for unemployment benefits dropped in June to their lowest level in nearly five years even as a separate measure of labor continues to outpace last year.

Suzie Miller

“It’s not just reading a number. It’s understanding how we get to the number,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at 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 in Mesa County increased from 7.9 percent in May to 9 percent in June.

The gain reversed a four-month slide that left the jobless rate at its lowest level since it stood at 7.5 percent in February 2009, also the latest time the rate fell below 8 percent. In June of 2012, however, the rate was higher at 9.7 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for June 2013, the number of people counted among those with full- and part-time jobs in Mesa County fell 763 to 71,602. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 915 to 7,106. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 152 to 78,808.

Miller said the increase in June wasn’t surprising given the jobless rate nearly always rises between May and June in Mesa County as college students and others look for work. If anything, slowly improving labor conditions could have enticed even more people to hunt for jobs this year, she added.

The end result for businesses is a deeper labor pool at a time  when many employers increase staffing for seasonal work, she said.

Miller attributed her analysis in part to the fact there were only 217 new filings for unemployment benefits in Mesa County in June, the lowest number since September 2008.

Meanwhile, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to outpace last year, Miller said. The 252 job orders posted during June were down almost 11 percent from the same month last year. But the 1,591 job orders posted at the center through the first half of 2013, were up almost 5.3 percent from the span span in 2012.

“Some of these signs are encouraging,” she said.

Despite the June jump, Miller said she remains confident labor conditions will continue to gradually improve. “I feel like there’s a sense we’re seeing more job orders and employers are hiring more.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in June: up nine-tenths of a point to 9.9 percent in Montrose County, up seventh-tenths to 7.7 percent in Delta County, up six-tenths to 6 percent in Rio Blanco County and up a half point to 7.3 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged up a tenth of a point to an even 7 percent. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.2 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased an estimated 11,000 as the private sector added a net 7,200 jobs and government employment increased 3,800. With the increase, June payrolls in Colorado totaled 2,368,300, surpassing the previous peak of 2,363,500 reported in May 2008.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 62,400, with the largest gains in the construction, leisure and hospitality and business and professional services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased seven-tenths of an hour to 35.6 hours over the past year.

Average hourly earnings rose 90 cents to $25.40.