Mesa County jobless rate drops

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County continues to retreat as increasingly confident employers step up hiring.

“I think there’s a sense there’s a little more optimism among employers,” said Suzie Miller, manager of business services at 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 dropped another four-tenths of a point to 4.1 percent in October. That’s the lowest level since November 2008, Miller said. At this time last year,  the jobless rate stood a full three points higher at 7.1 percent.

Even as the unemployment rate continues to decrease, Mesa County payrolls continue to increase, Miller said. “You have to look at those as positive indicators.”

For October, Mesa County payrolls grew 443 to 73,570. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work declined 300 to 3,158. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 143 to 76,728.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,762 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 2,365. The overall labor force remains smaller, however, by 603, and nearly 9 percent below peak employment levels in 2008.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance in Mesa County increased from September to October. But with 191 claims in October, filings were down almost 27 percent from the same month last year, 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 344 orders posted during October. That’s a nearly 52 percent increase over October 2013. Through October, a total of 3,043 job orders were posted at the center so far in 2014. That’s a 15 percent increase over the same span in 2013. “We continue to move in the right direction with that,” she said.

The job orders represent openings in a number of industry sectors, Miller said, including construction, health care, food service, office administration, sales and transportation..

There are still other indicators of increasing labor demand, Miller said, including the 26 hiring events conducted at the center during the third quarter. “It’s really refreshing to engage businesses that are eager to hire. It really does make a difference.”

Miller said she hopes that momentum continues through 2014 and into 2015, reducing what’s typically a spike in unemployment in January. “We’ve got a good opportunity to see continued improvement.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in October, down three-tenths of a point to 4.1 percent in Delta, two-tenths of a point to 3.3 percent in Garfield County and 4.6 percent in Montrose County and edging down a tenth to 2.6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell four-tenths of a point to 4.3 percent. That’s the lowest level since March 2008. At this time last year, the rate stood at 6.5 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls in Colorado edged up 300 as increased government hiring more than offset declines in private sector payrolls. Nonfarm payrolls have increased on a year-over-year for 36 consecutive months.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 60,800 with the largest gains in the construction, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped two-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 56 cents to $26.36.