Mesa County jobless rate edges back up

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County edged up in December,  local labor conditions were still better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.

The trend has Curtis Englehart more optimistic what’s typically a spike in the jobless rate in January won’t be as pronounced. “I would still expect an uptick, but hopefully it’ll be a lot less dramatic than it has been in years past,” said Englehart, director of 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 rose two-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in December. That matches increases between November and December in each of the previous two years, Englehart said. “It’s nothing that we’re not used to seeing.”

The gain reflects seasonal layoffs for retailers past the holiday shopping rush and other employers whose operations depend on warmer weather, he said.

For December 2016, Mesa County payrolls decreased 1,127 to 68,777. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 86 to 3,217. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 1,041 to 71,994.

Still, labor conditions have improved over the past year, Englehart said. The monthly jobless rate has dropped nearly a full point as payrolls and the labor force have grown.

At this time last year, the unemployment rate stood at 5.4 percent. Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have grown 1,012 or about 1.5 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have dropped 638. The labor force has edged up 374, but remains well below the  peak force of 84,000 reported in November 2009.

The unemployment rate usually jumps at its highest rate of the year in the first month of the year, but Englehart said he hopes the increase won’t be as substantial this year as more people remain in Mesa County and find employment.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has decreased, but only slightly. For December, 356 job orders were posted, down from 362 the same month last year. For all of 2016, 5,160 orders were posted. That’s down from 5,218 the year before.

Meanwhile, 134 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in December. That’s down from 311 for the same month last year. A total of 2,947 claims were filed during 2016, down from 3,357 claims in 2015.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates rose in three of four neighboring Western Colorado counties in December, up three-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in Montrose County and four-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in Rio Blanco County and 4.7 percent in Delta County. The jobless rate edged down a tenth of a point to 2.9 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated another two-tenths of a point to 3 percent in December even though nonfarm payrolls decreased 4,000. A larger increase in total employment than the labor force pushed down the number of people counted among the unemployed and, in turn, the jobless rate.

Over the past year, the Colorado jobless rate has dropped a half point as nonfarm payrolls have grown 48,800. The biggest job gains have occurred in the construction, education and health services and professional and business services sectors. Employment has declined in the financial activities, manufacturing and mining and logging sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour over the past year to 33.3 hours. Average hourly earnings decreased 11 cents to $26.92.