Mesa County jobless rate declines

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate decreased and labor force increased in Mesa County in August, diverging trends that reflect improving conditions.

“Those are really good signs to see,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to continue to edge down and the labor force to grow as more people return to work and the pace of hiring picks up. “That’s what we’re really hopeful for.”

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in August. That’s down eight-tenths of a point from what was revised upward to 7 percent in July. At this time last year, however, the rate stood at 3.1 percent. The labor force grew more than 700 over the past month.

For August, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,246 to 72,584. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 535 to 4,805. The labor force, which includes both the employed and unemployed, grew 711 to 77,389.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls dropped 1,979. The ranks of the unemployed more than doubled at 2,428. The labor force increased 449.

Since hitting 12.6 percent in April in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and related business closures and restrictions, the jobless rate has retreated 6.4 points. 

“It’s getting a little bit more like normal,” Englehart said.

Hiring continues, he said, especially for jobs in construction, health care, manufacturing and transportation.

One measure of labor demand has yet to rebound to levels of a year ago, though, Englehart said. A total of 536 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in August, down 26.4 percent from the same month last year. Through the first eight months of 2020, 3,988 job orders were posted. That’s down 24.8 percent from the same span in 2019.

Meanwhile, the weekly number of initial filings for unemployment benefits has declined since peaking at 2,583 for the week ending March 28. There were 139 filings for the week ending Aug. 29, which Englehart said is comparable to what historically happens in January with seasonal layoffs following the holidays.

A total of 12,336 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County between the week ending March 14 and the week ending August 29. But only about 3,000 people continue to receive benefits, he said. “A lot of people have been able to go back to work.”

Englehart said he hopes even more people go back to work as a result of a job fair set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Weather permitting, the event will be held outdoors in a parking lot near the corner of North Avenue and 29 1/2 Road in Grand Junction. He expects about 35 employers to participate, all of them looking to fill job openings.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also decreased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August: six-tenths of a point to 5.9 percent in Montrose County and 5.7 percent in Garfield County, three-tenths of a point to 5.9 percent in Delta County and a tenth of a point to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate decreased seven-tenths of a point to 6.7 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 36,900 from July to August with gains spread across industry sectors. Since May, Colorado has gained back 178,500 of the 342,300 nonfarm payroll jobs lost between February and April. Compared to a year ago, though, payrolls have decreased 147,800.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls lengthened six-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.2 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 67 cents to $30.79.