Mesa County jobless rate drops to 4.5 percent

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped a full point, moving below the 5 percent milestone on its way to its lowest reading in nearly six years.

Although the retreating jobless rate and a number of other indicators signal improving labor conditions, the labor force has yet to rebound to the more robust levels before the recession.

The overall trend, however, remains encouraging, said Suzie Miller, manager of business services at the Mesa County. “We’ve had the opportunity to enjoy good news for a couple of months now. We’ll certainly take it.”

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped a point to 4.5 percent in September. That’s the lowest level since the jobless rate stood at 4.1 percent in November 2008, Miller said. At this time last year, the rate was almost three points higher at 7.3 percent.

While the statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for September 2014 was higher than the Mesa County rate at 4.7 percent, the seasonally unadjusted state rate remained lower at 4 percent.

For September 2014, Mesa County payrolls grew 871 to 72,972. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 735 to 3,457. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 136 to 76,429.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have increased 1,223 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 2,204. The overall labor force has declined 981. While the unemployment rate for September 2014 is the lowest since November 2008, the overall labor force six years ago was more than 10 percent larger, Miller said.

Labor demand has increased, though, she said, as seasonal hiring for construction and landscaping jobs continues even as other employers start ramping up staffing for the holidays. The Mesa County Workforce Center hosted 26 hiring events during the third quarter, including a job fair that attracted 30 employers actively recruiting to fill job openings, Miller said. Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, Miller said, with 442 orders posted during September.

Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to 174 in September, the lowest number in six years, she said. The number of unemployment insurance beneficiaries in Mesa County dropped to 597 in September, she added.

The monthly unemployment rate typically continues to decline in Mesa County in October and November to some of the lowest levels of the year. So the jobless rate could dip even further, although Miller said she doesn’t expect the drop to be quite as dramatic as what happened in September.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September. The jobless rate dropped 1.1 points to 4.8 percent in Montrose County, nine-tenths of a point to 4.4 percent in Delta County and 2.6 percent in Rio Blanco County and eight-tenths of a point to 3.4 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped four-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent, the lowest level since June 2008. At this time last year, the statewide jobless rate stood at 6.6 percent. Nonfarm payrolls increased 14,600 with gains in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services and financial activities sectors. Nonfarm payrolls have increased on a year-over-year basis for 35 consecutive months in Colorado.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 67,400 with job growth in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services and professional and business services sectors. The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped nearly an hour over the past year to 34.3 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 28 cents to $26.39.