Mesa County jobless rate drops to near six-year low.

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped to its lowest level in nearly six years as labor conditions slowly improve.

The latest estimates for payrolls and the overall labor force reflect gains over the previous month and previous year. And a separate measure of labor demand has increased as well.

“There are really good indicators that maybe we’re continuing in the right direction,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped two-tenths of a point to 6.3 percent in July. That’s the lowest level since December 2008, Miller said. At this time last year, the jobless rate was a full two points higher at 8.3 percent.

For July 2014, payrolls increased 716 to 72,226. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged down 89 to 4,871. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased 627 to 77,097.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have increased 1,761 while the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,545.

The overall labor force has grown 216, but remains almost 8.5 percent below its peak of 84,235 in November 2009.

“We definitely still have some more work to do in that department,” Miller said.

Still, the latest numbers offer encouragement, she said.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased with 553 orders posted during July. That’s a more than 21 percent increase over the 456 orders posted for the same month last year, Miller said.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance increased 47 to 227 in July.

But that total remained more than 15 percent below July 2013, Miller said. At 833, the total number of unemployment insurance beneficiairies in Mesa County has dropped more than 42 percent since peaking at 1,450 in February, she added.

The opening of several restaurants and fast food outlets has bolstered hiring in the local leisure and hospitality sector, Miller said. And interest among employers has been strong for a Sept. 30 job fair planned for the Mesa County Workforce Center in preparation for seasonal hiring for the holidays.

While the labor market in Mesa County continues to lag behind other areas of Colorado where a more robust recovery has occurred, Miller said local conditions have slowly improved. And she’s hoping a stronger state and national economy gives local employers more confidence to increase hiring.

The statewise seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped another two-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in July, the lowest level since October 2008. The jobless rate stood at 6.8 percent a year ago.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 5,500 in Colorado in July, extending to 33 months the string of consecutive gains. The largest increases were reported in the education and health services, construction and professional and business services sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 65,600 with the biggest gains in the education and health services, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors. Employment has declined in the financial activities and information sectors over the past year.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped four-tenths of an hour to 34.4 hours over the past year.

Average hourly earnings have increased 61 cents to $26.15.