Mesa County jobless rate drops to 10-year low

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level in nearly 10 years as payrolls swell and the ranks of those unsuccessfully looking for work shrink.

“It’s another good month for our economic climate here in Mesa County,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped six-tenths of a point to 3 percent in August. That’s the lowest level since October 2007, Englehart said. At this time last year, the jobless rate stood at 5.1 percent.

A measure of labor demand continues to increase even as claims for unemployment benefits and the number of people receiving those benefits decrease, he said. “It’s very exciting to see these numbers.”

For August, Mesa County payrolls rose 415 to 70,064. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 416 to 2,199. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, was nearly unchanged at 72,263.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,890, or almost 2.8 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,452. The labor force has grown 438, but remains below peak employment levels of 84,000 in 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, Englehart said. For August, 744 orders were posted at the center, 329 of those for full-time permanent positions. For the same month last year, 482 orders were posted, 171 for full-time positions. Through Sept. 14, 5,434 job orders had been posted at the center this year. That’s an almost 46 percent increase over the same span last year.

While labor demand is more widely distributed among industry sectors, demand remains strongest in the construction, health care and hospitality sectors, Englehart said.

A total of 166 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in August, down from 230 for the same month last year, Englehart said. While 604 people were receiving jobless benefits in the county in August, that number totaled 1,043 for the same month last year.

Considered collectively, the latest labor numbers reflect an improving economy in which employers are more confident to fill vacant positions as well as hire additional employees for expanding operations, Englehart said.

At the same time, though, employers have a shallower labor pool from which to draw, making it more challenging to find applicants with the right skills, he said.

Still, the improving labor market combined with other attributes make Mesa County a more attractive location for applicants from outside the area, Englehart said, particularly those who’ve tired of the congestion along the Front Range. “It’s very appealing to the outside job seeker.”

Englehart said he expects jobless rates to trend downward during the remainder of the year as seasonal hiring for the coming holidays picks up, although the month-to-month declines could be smaller given the already low rates.

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also declined in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August: down four-tenths of a point to 2.7 percent in Delta County and 2.4 percent in Montrose County, three-tenths of a point to 2.1 percent in Garfield County and two-tenths of a point to 2.9 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 2.4 percent, near the lowest level recorded since the latest statistical series began in 1976. Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,400 between July and August with gains in professional and business services more than offsetting loses in the leisure and hospitality and information sectors.

Over the past year, the  unemployment rate has dropped nine-tenths of a point as nonfarm payrolls have increased 45,800. The largest job gains occurred in the education and health services; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has edged up a tenth of an hour over the past year to 33.9 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 81 cents to $27.41.