Mesa County jobless rate edges up, but remains near nine-year low

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has edged up, the latest numbers continue to offer a more encouraging statistical snapshot of the local labor market.

“It’s good to see,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The number of job orders posted at the center has increased with growing labor demand across industry sectors, Englehart said.

While the jobless rate typically spikes in June as high school and college students enter the work force in search of summer jobs, Englehart expects the increase will be smaller this year. Afteward, the unemployment rate should trend downward, he said

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County inched up a tenth of a point to 3.3 percent in May. The jobless rate remains near its lowest level since it stood at 3.2 percent in April 2008. At this time last year, the rate was 5.2 percent.

For May 2017, Mesa County payrolls increased 541 to 69,592. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work also increased — by 95 to  2,350. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew  636 to 71,942.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 802 even as the ranks of the unemployed have declined 1,398. The overall labor force has shrunk 596 and remains below peak employment of 84,000 in November 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased.

For May, 686 job orders were posted at the center, a jump of  52 percent over the same month last year. Year-to-date job orders posted through June 15 total 3,223 for 2017, an increase of almost 36 percent over the same span in 2016. The number of year-to-date job orders for full-time permanent positions has grown nearly 65 percent to 1,567, Englehart said.

Since the beginning of the year, the center has helped 1,274 people who’ve registered for services there land jobs, he added.

There’s been increased labor demand in a number of sectors, Englehart said, including health care, construction and office and administrative positions. There also have been more openings in the energy sector. “It’s pretty well diversified.”

For May, 159 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County, down one from April. But the number of unemployment insurance recipients in the county dropped 144 from April to May to 624, Englehart said.

Looking ahead, Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to spike when the June estimates come out July 21. But given recent trends, he expects the increase to be smaller than the nearly one-point jump last year.

After that, he expects the unemployment rate to continue to trend down as hiring picks up through the summer and fall and into the holiday shopping season. While labor demand hasn’t yet outpaced supply, Englehart said he could see that happening.

For May, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates rose a half point to 2.8 percent in Garfield County and a tenth of a point to
3.2 percent in Delta County. The jobless rate held steady at 2.8 percent in Montrose County and 3.3 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 2.3 percent, the lowest level for the state since the latest statistical series began in 1976.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 10,600 with gains in the education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has retreated 1.1 points as nonfarm payrolls have increased 62,000. The largest year-over-year job gains have occurred in the education and health services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has shortened nine-tenths of an hour to 33 hours. Average hourly earnings have decreased 7 cents to $27.24.