Mesa County jobless rate drops to record low

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Celina Kirnberger

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped to its lowest level on record — an indication of improving economic conditions, but also a tight labor market that makes it difficult for employers to fill job openings.

“Employers are having a hard time trying to find people. It’s pretty tight,” said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell seven-tenths of a point to 2.5 percent in September, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

That’s the lowest rate in Mesa County for county level statistics in Colorado going back to 1990. Only state-level statistics are available before 1990. The Mesa County jobless rate stood at 2.8 percent in May 2007.

“I was like, wow,” Kirnberger said.

Kirnberg she was initially surprised by the low rate, but also not surprised given what she said she’s observed at the Mesa County Workforce center and what she’s heard from local employers.

For September, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,605 to 76,384. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 440 to 1,995. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 1,165 to 78,379.

The labor force has topped the 78,000 milestone twice so far in 2019, but remains well below the peak of 84,000 in 2009.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,943 — about
2.6 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 887. The labor force has grown 1,056.

Kirnberger said a lower unemployment rate combined with a growing labor force constitute healthy trends. “Those a great indicators.”

Another measure of labor demand in the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center constitutes something of a mixed bag, she said.

While 593 job orders were posted in September — down  17 orders from the same month last year —  the latest job orders involved a total of 1,766 openings. That’s more than double the 779 openings for the same month last year. Through the first three quarters of 2019, 5,893 job orders were posted at the center. That’s down 9 percent from the same span in 2018.

Demand remains strongest for job openings in the health care sector, but there are openings in most sectors, Kirnberger said. “It’s been pretty across the board.”

Initial claims for unemployment insurance edged down six in September to 138. Through the first three quarters of 2019, 1,383 claims were filed. That’s down 5.5 percent from the same span in 2018, she said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September: down eight-tenths of a point to 2.8 percent in Rio Blanco County, down six-tenths of a point to 2.3 percent in Delta County, down a half point to 2.2 percent in Montrose County and down four-tenths of a point to 2 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged down a tenth of a point to 2.7 percent as the number of people reporting themselves employed exceeded the number of those unsuccessfully looking for work. Nonfarm payrolls decreased 1,900 between August and September. Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has dropped eight-tenths of a percent even as nonfarm payrolls have increased 56,900.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened two-tenths of an hour to 34 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings increased $1.52 to $30.90.