Mesa County jobless rate edges up

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate has edged up in Mesa County, but remains at a low level that reflects a stable, albeit tight, labor market.

Lindsay Bullock

“It looks like it’s staying  pretty consistent here,” said Lindsay Bullock, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate increased to 2.9 percent in May, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. That’s up two-tenths of a point from a revised 2.7 percent in April and matches the same rate for May 2022.

For May 2023, Mesa County payrolls increased 443 to 75,058. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work also increased  — 236 to 2,269. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 679 to 77,327.

Over the past year, payrolls increased 409. The ranks of the unemployed decreased 32. The labor force grew 441.

Although the changes were small, Bullock said she was pleased to see the labor force increase even as the monthly jobless rate remained below 3 percent.

While the overall labor market remains tight, Bullock said there’s been a move toward an equilibrium between a job seeker’s market and employer’s market.

One measure of labor demand — the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center — increased in May, but still lags behind last year.

Bullock said 819 job orders were posed in May. That’s up from 744 in April and 727 in May 2022. Through the first five months of 2023, 3,724 orders were posted. That’s down from 4,106 for the same span in 2022. 

Demand remains strongest in the health care and child care sectors, she said. More employees will be needed in child care as a state law soon takes effect and makes 4-year-olds eligible for 10 free hours of licensed preschool a week. 

Bullock expects what’s traditionally a June jump in the jobless rate as high school and college students enter the work force in search of summer jobs. But seasonal employment offers businesses an opportunity to tap into a different portion of the labor force in developing the work force, she said.

While there’s the potential for a recession to begin in 2023 that could exert local effects, Bullock said she doesn’t foresee large swings in the unemployment rate in the second half of the year. “I think we’re going to level off.”

Seasonally unadjusted jobless rates also rose in neighboring Western Colorado counties in May — up a tenth of a point to
3.1 percent in Delta County, two-tenths of a point to 2.8 percent in Montrose County and four-tenths of a point to 2.7 percent in both Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 2.8 percent. The state rate has remained below 3 percent for 13 consecutive months.

According to the latest results of the household survey used to calculate the unemployment rate, the Colorado labor force increased 9,400 between April and May as the labor force participation rate edged up a tenth of a point to 68.7 percent. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 8,800.

According to the results of the establishment survey, nonfarm payrolls increased 3,900 between April and May. What was initially estimated as gain of 7,200 jobs between March and April was revised downward to 6,100.

Since May 2020, nonfarm payrolls have increased 30,200, about 1.1 percent, with the largest gains in the leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors. Employment declined in the construction, financial activities and information sectors as well as the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

Over the past year, the average workweek for Colorado employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened two-tenths of an hour to 33.5 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.04 to $35.72.