Mesa County jobless rate back below 3 percent

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has slipped below 3 percent for only the second time in more than 12 years.

The lower jobless rate and growing labor force constitute two encouraging trends, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “Those are two signs we look at for a healthy economy.”

At the same time, though, the lower unemployment rate reflects a tighter labor market and more difficulty for businesses to recruit and retain skilled employees, Englehart said.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a point to 2.9 percent in May. That matches the rate for May 2018 as the lowest level since the rate was slightly lower at 2.8 percent in May 2007.

For May 2019, Mesa County payrolls increased 905 to 75,571. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 275 to 2,256. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 630 to 77,827.

Over the past year, the labor force has grown 1,950 or nearly 2.6 percent.

Given the higher jobless rates earlier in the year attributable in part to colder winter weather that affected construction and other outdoor work, Englehart said he’s pleased with the lower rates that have accompanied warmer weather. “It’s something we’re excited about.”

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center increased 4 percent to 796 in May compared to the same month last year. Through the end of May, 3,208 job orders were posted at the center in 2019. That’s down more than 12 percent from the same span in 2018 because of what was a milder winter last year, Englehart said.

A total of 139 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in May, down from 154 for the same month last year. Through the end of May, 813 claims were filed in 2019, down from 845 for the same span last year.

Englehart said people who left Mesa County during the recession that followed double downturns in the energy sector and overall economy have returned. Others are relocating to Mesa County from the Front Range to escape higher housing prices and increased traffic, he said.

Still, the tighter labor market makes it more difficult for businesses to recruit and retain skilled workers even though they’re paying on average higher wages, he said.

The Mesa County Workforce Center can help, Englehart said, in hosting customized hiring events. Those services are free and effective, he said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in May — down six-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent in Rio Blanco County, four-tenths of a point to 3 percent in Delta County and two-tenths of a point to 2.8 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate was unchanged at 2.6 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment decreased a tenth of a point to 3.2 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 2,200.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has edged up a tenth of a point as the number of people looking for work has exceeded the number of those reporting themselves as employed. Nonfarm payrolls have increased 45,900 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and educational and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on nonfarm payrolls has declined seven-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.2 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.63 to $30.14.