Mesa County jobless rate drops to lowest level of the year

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has slipped back into single digits even as increasing labor demand offers encouragement conditions are improving.

“We’re seeing some life in the economy. It might be little, but it’s in the right direction,” said Suzie Miller, an employment specialist with 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 in Mesa County fell a half point to 9.5 percent in August.

With declines in each of the last two months, the jobless rate not has dropped to its lowest level of this year. At this time last year, the rate stood at an even 10 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for August, Mesa County payrolls increased 847 to 69,308. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 329 to 7,310. Moreover, the overall work force in the county edged up 518 to 76,618. Payrolls and the overall work force remain below levels of a year ago, however.

Miller said the August numbers as well as longer term trends reflect more than just seasonal job gains associated with summer activity.

A total of 278 job orders were posted at the work force center during August, she said. That number is up 40 percent from August 2010, 73 percent from August 2009 and 12 percent from pre-recession levels in August 2008. Each job order usually involves two or three job openings, sometimes more.

For the first eight months of 2011, 1,887 job orders were posted at the center, Miller said. That total is up 31 percent from the same span in 2010, although still down about 9 percent from 2008. “This whole year is turning out better,” she said.

Miller said labor demand has increased in several industry sectors, in particular extraction and transportation. Local energy companies are hiring, she added, although mostly for employees who’ll work outside of Colorado.

The center hosted a hiring event to help recruit 120 employees to work at the new American Furniture Warehouse store expected to open in Grand Junction in October or November. Miller estimated that about 700 people came to the center to apply for the jobs.

In addition to large businesses recruiting employees, small businesses have increased hiring activity as well, she said.

While labor conditions could change, Miller said she believes some momentum has built up and Mesa County won’t experience what she called “a completely awful rest of the year.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August: down seven-tenths to 8.1 percent in Delta County, down three-tenths to 7.9 percent in Garfield County, down six-tenths to 9.3 percent in Montrose County and down five-tenths to 5 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The stateside seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged for a second straight month at 8.5 percent, although nonfarm payrolls in Colorado declined 1,800.