Mesa County jobless rate drops

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The Mesa County labor market has heated up along with springtime weather as seasonal hiring helps increase payrolls and pull down the unemployment rate.

“Springtime things tend to always pick up,” said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell eight-tenths of a point to 3.8 percent in March. That’s the lowest level since the jobless rate stood at 3.6 percent in October — and lower than the 4.2 percent rate posted in March 2018.

Kirnberger said unemployment rates historically move lower between February and March, but she was surprised by the size of the latest move. “That is so awesome to see.”

For March, Mesa County payrolls increased 357 to 74,169. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 693 to 2,905. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 336 to 77,074.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 2.095 or 2.9 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 248. The labor force has grown 1,847.

As spring weather heats up, so does activity in the construction sector as well as landscaping and other outdoor work, Kirnberger said. Activity also increases for the hospitality sector.

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has declined on a year-over-year basis, but still accounts for thousands of openings, Kirnberger said.

For March, 662 job orders were posted, down nearly 17.6 percent from the same month last year. For the first quarter, 1,802 orders were posted. That’s down 16.4 percent for the same quarter last year. Still, job orders involved 1,332 openings in March and 2,765 openings in the first quarter. Labor demand remains strongest for jobs in health care, construction and landscaping, Kirnberger said.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits increased 10 percent to 154 in March compared to the same month last year. However, claims were down almost 11.3 percent to 489 for the first quarter compared to the same span last year.

Kirnberger said she expects the jobless rate to continue to trend down in Mesa County. “I would expect to see a low unemployment rate for the next couple of months.”

While there’s shifting as some businesses close and others open, Kirnberger said the local labor market reflects generally improving conditions, a more diversified economy and a growing number of people moving to the area.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in March:1.2 points to
4.8 percent in Rio Blanco County, six-tenths of a point to 4 percent in Montrose County and a half point to 4.7 percent in Delta County and 3.2 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell two-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent as nonfarm payrolls swelled 6,100.

Over the past year, the state unemployment rate has increased six-tenths of a point as the number of people looking for work exceeded those reporting themselves as employed. Nonfarm payrolls have increased 45,100 with the biggest gains in professional and business services; educational and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities.

The average workweek has decreased nine-tenths of an hour to 32.6 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.88 to $30.27.