Latest job numbers buoy Mesa County outlook

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated. Combined with increases in payrolls, the labor force and  job orders, the latest numbers portend improving conditions.

Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction called the trends “refreshing.”

“I think we’re off to a really good start,” Englehart said.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell a half point to 5.3 percent in Mesa County in February. The decrease chipped away at a 1.4-point spike in the jobless rate in January, an annual occurrence the reflects layoffs after the holidays and a lull in seasonal hiring. At this time last year, the unemployment rate was a full point higher at 6.3 percent.

Englehart said he was also encouraged by increases in payrolls and the labor force.

For February, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,093 to 67,527. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 292 to 3,767, The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 801 to 71,294.

Over the past year, payrolls have edged up 296 while the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 776. The labor force has declined  480 and remains well below a peak of 84,000 in November 2009.

Labor statistics lag at the beginning of the year because of an annual process the labor department goes through to review and revise numbers for the previous year. March job numbers are scheduled for release April 21.

Meanwhile, a measure of labor demand has increased, Englehart said, with increases in both the number of job orders posted at the workforce center and number of orders for full-time, permanent positions. “That’s a positive trend we look for.”

For February, 534 job orders were posted, 295 of them for full-time permanent positions, he said. Compared to the same month last year, job orders increased nearly 43 percent and the number of orders for full-time, permanent positions doubled.

At the same time, the numbers of claims for unemployment insurance and benefit recipients have declined, Englehart said.

For February, 167 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County, exactly half the number of claims for the same month last year. Over the same span, the number of unemployment insurance recipients in the country declined almost 34 percent to 1,172.

Englehart said yet another indicator of sorts points to improving labor conditions. Forty-five employers participated in the latest Jump Start Job Fair at the workforce center, the most ever for the annual event. And all of the employers were hiring for open positions.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in February, rising a tenth of a point to 3.9 percent in Garfield County, two-tenths to 6.2 percent in Rio Blanco County and three-tenths to 4.9 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate slipped a tenth to 5.7 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 2.9 percent in February, although nonfarm payrolls increased 2,000 with gains in the construction and business and professional services sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has decreased four-tenths of a point to its lowest level in 16 years. Nonfarm payrolls have grown 50,300 with gains in professional and business services; education and health services; and the trade, transportation and utilities sector. Mining and logging employment has declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased a half hour to 32.7 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have dropped 27 cents to $27.20.