Mesa County jobless rate edges down

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

The Mesa County unemployment rate has declined to its lowest level of the year, defying what’s usually a seasonal bump in the jobless rate attributed to students looking for summer jobs.

Moreover, labor demand as tracked by another measure remains at its highest level in four years.

Taken together, the latest numbers signal continued improvement, albeit at a slow pace, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “This is encouraging news.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged down a tenth of a point to 9 percent. With declines in each of the last two months, the jobless rate has dropped to its lowest level since December. At this time last year, the rate stood at 9.6 percent.

According to the estimates for May, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,785 to 73,312. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 121 to 7,273. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, climbed 1,906 to 80,585.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,906, and the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 330. The overall work force has grown 1,576.

Miller said the decline in the May unemployment, although small, constitutes a “pleasant surprise.” The jobless rate usually rises at the conclusion of the school year as college and high school students enter the work force looking for summer jobs, she said.

The increase in Mesa County payrolls also was encouraging, she said. Meanwhile, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since 2008, Miller said.

A total of 270 job orders were posted at the center during May, the most for that month since 2008. Through June 14, 1,353 job orders have been posted at the center this year, again the most for that span since 2008. Each order usually involved two or three job openings, sometimes more.

Labor demand is spread out among a number of occupational sectors, Miller said, including production, office administration, sales and maintenance jobs.

While monthly unemployment rates in Mesa County so far in 2012 remain double those of 2008, Miller said she hopes jobless rates trend lower as labor conditions slowly improve. “It would be good to see it continue.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in May: a tenth of a point to 10.7 percent in Montrose County, two-tenths to 8.3 percent in Delta County and four-tenths to 5.6 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth to 8.5 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment advanced two-tenths of a point to 8.1 percent, the highest level this year. An increase in the number of people entering the labor force exceeded an increase in the number of people on payrolls.

Nonfarm payrolls increased an estimated 2,000 in Colorado in May as private-sector payrolls climbed 2,300 and government payrolls fell 300.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 40,800 with gains in the professional and business services, education and health services and construction sectors.

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

Average hourly earnings have increased 62 cents to $24.52.