Mesa County jobless rate edges up

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate has crept up in Mesa County for a third straight month on incremental changes in payrolls and the number of people looking for work.

While he expected a drop in the latest jobless rate, Curtis Englehart said he remains encouraged by overall conditions. “I’m still seeing some really positive trends locally,” said Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

For one thing, hiring for seasonal positions for the upcoming holidays could lead to more permanent employment, he said.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth of a point to 4 percent in Mesa County in August, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. With gains in each of the last three months, the jobless rate has climbed 1.1 points higher than May, when the rate retreated to its lowest level since 2007. The rate stood at 3.7 percent at this time last year.

For August, Mesa County payrolls slipped 306 to 72,647. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up 90 to 3,022. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 216 to 75,669.

“It’s very small, incremental changes,” Englehart said.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 971 while the ranks of the unemployed have increased 256. The labor force has grown 1,227 — about 1.6 percent — but remains below peak employment of 84,000 in 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has remained strong, Englehart said. For August, 747 job orders were posted at the center, matching the same month last year. Through the first eight months of 2018, 5,867 job orders have been posted, up nearly 14.3 percent from the same span in 2017.

Labor demand remains strong in a number of industry sectors, but has become especially pronounced in the construction sector, corresponding to increasing residential and commercial building activity in Mesa County, Englehart said.

Meanwhile, 150 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in August, down 9.6 percent from the same month last year. Through the first eight months of 2018, 1,320 claims were filed. That’s a decrease of almost 7 percent from the same span in 2017.

The unemployment rate historically trends downward in Mesa County toward the end of the year, and Englehart said he hopes history repeats itself. “I would like to think so.”

Hiring for the holidays usually begins in October and includes more than just retail positions, he said. Many of those seasonal positions could become permanent as businesses increase staffing heading into the new year, he added.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August — up seven-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County, up four-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent in Montrose County and 3.1 percent in Garfield County and up three-tenths of a point to 3.8 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged up a tenth of a point to 2.9 percent in August as the number of people looking for work exceeded those who found jobs. Nonfarm payrolls increased 1,500 with the biggest gains in the construction and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, the Colorado unemployment rate has remained unchanged even as nonfarm payrolls have swelled 72,200. The largest employment gains have occurred in the professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has edged up a tenth of an hour over the past year to 33.9 hours.

Average hourly wages have increased $1.43 to $28.89.