June jobless spike smaller

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate spiked again in Mesa County in June, but the increase was less pronounced this year than in past years.

It’s a reflection of a tightening labor market that has made it more difficult for employers to fill openings, but also created more opportunities for people looking for work, said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor 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 rose three-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in June. The jobless rate typically increases in June in Mesa County as seasonal hiring for construction and landscaping tapers off even as college and high school students enter the work force in search of summer jobs, Kirnberger said.

The increase was smaller this year, however, than a jump of nearly a point last year to 6.1 percent. Moreover, the jobless rate has remained below 4 percent for four consecutive months and near their lowest levels in nine years. “Overall, things are looking good,” Kirnberger said.

For June, Mesa County payrolls edged down 342 to 69,166. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up 235 to 2,583. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 107 to 71,749.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,370 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 1,787. The labor force has shrunk  417 and remains well below peak employment levels of 84,000 in 2009.

Kirnberger said the labor market has tightened over the past six months. Lower unemployment rates have made it more difficult for employers to fill jobs, but also created a less competitive environment for people looking for work. “It really feels like it’s done a 180.”

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased, she said.

For June, 762 job orders were posted at the center. That’s an 82 percent increase over the same month last year. For the first half of 2017, 3,548 job orders were posted at the center, a 39 percent increase.

Labor demand has remained strongest in the health care sector, but also has included the energy and manufacturing sectors, Kirnberger said.

Meanwhile, claims for unemployment benefits have declined, she said.

For June, 188 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County. That’s a decrease of 26 percent from the same month last year. For the first half of 2017, 1,094 claims were filed. That’s a drop of almost 37 percent from the first half of 2016.

Looking ahead, Kirnberger said she expects the jobless rate to trend back down.

The Mesa County Workforce Center will continue to help employers fill job openings by not only posting job orders, but also conducting hiring events and providing assistance with on-the-job training and internships, she said.

The center also is helping employers develop talent through an apprenticeship program, she said. An event set for 3 p.m. Aug. 8 at the center will offer information about a program offering scholarships and pay to participants for eight weeks of training on the job and at Western Colorado Community College.

Meanwhile, unadjusted jobless rates also rose in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June — up a tenth of a point to 2.9 percent in Montrose County and up two-tenths of a point to 3.4 percent in Delta County and 3.5 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate slipped two-tenths of a point to 2.6 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment remained unchanged in June at 2.3 percent, the lowest level for Colorado since the latest statistical series began in 1976.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 6,500 with the largest gains in the business and professional services, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has retreated 1.1 points as nonfarm payrolls have increased 54,900. The trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors reported the biggest gains.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls rose half an hour to 34.2 hours. Average hourly earnings decreased 5 cents to $26.75.