June joblessness jumps despite record labor demand

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The Mesa County unemployment rate jumped in June as high school and college graduates joined the work force. 

At the same time, business struggled to fill job openings as one measure of labor demand increased to record levels

“The demand is huge right now for jobs,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce in Grand Junction.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose nine-tenths of a point to 6.9 percent in Mesa County, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

A year ago, when the labor market bore the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions, the jobless rate stood at 11.1 percent.

For June 2021, Mesa County payrolls decreased 717 to 70,864. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 639 to 5,220. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 78 to 76,084.

Compared to COVID-19 pandemic conditions a year ago, payrolls increased 3,153. The ranks of the unemployed decreased 3,210. The labor force edged down  57.

Englehart said the unemployment rate historically increases from May to June as high school and college graduates look for work. This year, though, the labor market is far tighter than a 6.9 percent jobless rate indicates, he added.

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has nearly doubled from a year ago, he said. For June, 1,060 orders were posted. That compares to 617 a year ago.  For the first half of 2021, 5,567 orders were posted — the highest number on record. For the first half of 2020, 2,862 orders were posted.

The latest numbers exceed not only 2020 and pandemic conditions, but also 2019 and 2018, Englehart said.

Businesses hit hardest by the pandemic have encountered the most difficulty in filling job openings, he said, among them restaurants and retailers. Some restaurants have limited operations because of shortages of not only labor, but also food and other supplies.

Some people have been reluctant to return to work in part because of a $300 federal stipend added to weekly unemployment benefits, he said. That stipend expires in early September.

The Mesa County Workforce Center strives to help employers fill job openings through a number of efforts, including what Englehart described as “micro” job fairs with 25 employers. The next job fair is set for 9 a.m. to noon July 29 at the center, located at 512 29 1/2 Road.

Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to retreat in coming months as labor shortages ease. “I’m hopeful the situation will change as we get through 2021.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June — a tenth of a point to 5.6 percent in Garfield County, four-tenths to 5.8 percent in Montrose County, a half point to 5.6 percent in Delta County and seven-tenths to 5.9 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 6.2 percent, although nonfarm payrolls increased 10,800 between May and June.

Employment increased 5,300 in leisure and hospitality; 3,300 in professional and business services; and 1,000 in trade, transportation and utilities.

Since June 2020, nonfarm payrolls have increased 154,100. Over the past 14 months, Colorado has regained 276,400 of the 375,800 jobs lost between February and April of 2020 because of the pandemic and related restrictions.

The largest employment increases occurred in the leisure and hospitality; trade, transportation and utilities; and professional and business services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls lengthened two-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.9 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.23 to $31.58.