Mesa County jobless rate — and labor force — drop

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The unemployment rate has dropped  in Mesa County, but so has the labor force.

While the latest estimates constitute what Curtis Englehart deemed a “mixed bag,” the director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction said labor conditions are improving. “It feels like we’re slowly getting back on course.”

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped 3.2 points to 6.9 percent in July. But the overall labor force in the county also dropped — nearly 2,900 to 76,353.

Englehart said the lower jobless rate reflects the lower labor force more than any other change. “That’s playing a bigger role in our reduction.”

Since hitting 12.6 percent in April in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and related closures and restrictions, the unemployment rate has retreated nearly six points. At this time last year, however, the rate stood at 3.5 percent.

For July, Mesa County payrolls decreased 156 to 71,047. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work dropped 2,728 to 5,306. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 2,884 to 76,353.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls dropped 2,690. The ranks of the unemployed nearly doubled at 2,642. The labor force edged down 48.

The decline in the labor force from June, the highest level in eight years, likely reflected statistical revisions rather than that many people leaving the work force, Englehart said.

Englehart said he expects labor conditions to improve as  more businesses reopen, expand operations and adjust to changes brought on the pandemic.

A total of 590 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in July, a decrease of 22.6 percent from the same month last year. Through the first seven months of 2020, 3,452 job orders were posted. That’s a decline of 24.5 percent from the same span in 2019, he said.

A total of 792 new filings for unemployment benefits were reported in Mesa County during July 2020. That’s up more than fivefold from the same month last year. Through the first seven months of 2020, 9,880 new filings were reported. That’s up ninefold from the same span in 2019, he said.

Weekly initial claims for unemployment benefits have trended down, however, since peaking at 2,583 for the week ending March 28, Englehart said. For the week ending Aug. 15, 159 initial claims were filed.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also decreased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in July: 3.9 points to  6.5 percent in Montrose County, 3.5 points to 6.2 percent in both Delta and Garfield counties and 2.8 points to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell 3.2 points to 7.4 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 6,200 from June to July as an increase of 23,400 private sector jobs more than offset a decrease of 17,200 government jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector added 11,800 jobs, while payrolls increased 6,800 in the trade, transportation and utilities sector and 2,200 for businesses and professional services.

Since May, Colorado has regained 134,000 of the 342,000 jobs lost between February and April, mostly as a result of the pandemic.

Compared to a year ago, though, payrolls have decreased 186,200 with the largest losses in the leisure and hospitality; trade transportation and utilities; and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged down a tenth of an hour over the past year to 33.4 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 23 cents to $30.48.