June joblessness jumps

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The June jobless rate has once again jumped in Mesa County, spiking from what had been its lowest level in more than a decade.

But after the seasonal speed bump, what’s been a trend of lower unemployment rates and a growing labor force is expected to resume, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “As we look at the second half of 2018, I’m very optimistic.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment climbed to 3.7 percent, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That’s up eight-tenths of a point from a May rate of 2.9 percent, the lowest level since May 2007. At this time last year, though, the rate was higher at 4 percent.

Englehart said the jobless rate typically jumps in June as high school and college students join the labor force to search for summer jobs or, as graduates, to seek full-time employment. As the number of people looking for work outpaces payroll gains, the unemployment rate rises. The change can be more pronounced, he said, if the jobless rate is lower. “It’s not alarming by any means.”

For June, Mesa County payrolls dropped  957 to 72,603. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 573 to 2,756. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 384 to 75,359.

Over the past year, though, payrolls have increased 1,924 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 161. The overall work force has grown 1,763, or nearly 2.4 percent, but remains below its peak of 84,000 in 2009.

Englehart said he expects the monthly unemployment rate to trend back downward for the remainder of the year as the labor force continues to grow. Both the labor market and quality of life remain attractive in bringing people to Mesa County, he said.

A measure of labor demand lagged in June, but increased for the first half of the year compared to the first half of 2017, Englehart said.

For June, 695 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, down almost 8.8 percent from the same month last year. For the first half of 2018, 4,346 job orders were posted at the center, an increase of 21.8 percent over the first half of 2017.

Labor demand remains strongest in the construction, health care and manufacturing sectors, but there are job openings across the board, Englehart said.

Meanwhile, 157 initial claims for unemployment insurance were reported in Mesa County in June, bringing to 1,002 the total claims for the first half of 2018. Those numbers are down nearly 16.5 percent from June 2017 and 8.4 percent from the first half of 2017. There were 530 unemployment insurance recipients in Mesa County in June, down almost 20.2 percent from the same month a year ago.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June — up seven-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent in Delta County and 3.7 percent in Rio Blanco County, up six-tenths of a point to 3.3 percent in Montrose County and up a tenth to 2.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth to 2.7 percent, according to the latest results of household surveys. The number of people participating in the labor force increased 9,800 as the number of those who reported themselves as employed increased 10,800.

Nonfarm payrolls grew 4,200, according to a separate business survey, with gains in the education and health services, financial activities and professional and business services sectors.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has held steady. Nonfarm payrolls have increased 74,600, with the biggest gains in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has edged up a tenth of an hour to 33.9 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.46 to $28.71.