Mesa County jobless rate declines in February

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County slipped in February from a seasonal peak, confirming assessments that local labor conditions have improved since the beginning of the year.

Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, expects the jobless rate to keep trending downward. “I think it will continue with the March unemployment rate when that comes out.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County dropped to 11.5 percent in February, down four-tenths after spiking at 11.9 percent in January.

CDLE estimates for the beginning of the year are delayed because of an annual revision process. March figures are scheduled for release April 19.

The monthly unemployment rate typically jumps to its highest level of the year in January in part because of a seasonal spike that occurs after the holiday season. The January jobless rate in Mesa County would have been one of the highest in decades were it not for revisions that established the benchmarked rate for January 2010 slightly higher at 12 percent. The benchmarked rate for February 2010 was 11.8 percent.

For February 2011, the estimated employed work force in Mesa County grew 919 to 69,451 even as the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 215 to 9,059.

In February 2010, the employed work force was slightly higher at 69,841 — as was the number of unemployed at 9,369.

Lujan said labor conditions have improved since January with a decrease in initial claims for unemployment insurance and an increase in job orders posted at the center. The number of job applicants registered at the center has steadily declined over the past year, he added.

Lujan expects the unemployment rate to continue to decline and job openings to increase as weather warms and seasonal hiring picks up. “Everything just seems to be pointing to us seeing more jobs open up.”

The overall labor force likely won’t increase substantially, though, after dropping nearly 8,000 from its peak two years ago, Lujan added.

For February, unadjusted unemployment rates also declined in three out of four neighboring Western Colorado counties: down three-tenths to 11.2 percent in Delta County, down a tenth to 13 percent in Montrose County and down a tenth to 7.6 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth to 10.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths to 9.3 percent in February even though nonfarm payrolls grew 3,000.

The jobless rate is determined by the results of a monthly survey of households, while payroll estimates are based on a monthly survey of businesses.

Nonfarm payrolls increased in professional and business services as well as in the leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation and utility sectors. Employment declined in the construction and financial activities sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 13,800 as a net gain of 16,400 jobs in the private sector more than offset a net loss of 2,600 jobs in government.