Mesa County jobless rate edging up

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The Mesa County unemployment rate has edged up for a second straight month as seasonal layoffs and slowing in the energy industry affect the local labor market.

While the jobless rate remains far lower than this time last year and other indicators signal improvement, the outlook has turned more guarded, said Suzie Miller, manager of business services at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “Our outlook is going to be very cautious.”

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County rose two-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent in December. The jobless rate increased four-tenths of a percent the month before.

Still, the latest rate remains more than two points lower than the 7 percent posted for December 2013.

For December, Mesa County payrolls fell 550 to 72,325. The  number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up 106 to 3,546. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, decreased 444 to 75,871.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,193 even as the ranks of the unemployed have declined 1,846. The overall labor force has edged down 654, or about eight-tenths of a percent, and remains almost 10 percent below peak employment levels below the recession.

Miller said the unemployment rate typically rises between November in December in part because of seasonal layoffs immediately following the holidays. But there are also indications slowing in energy development related to lower oil prices has begun to affect the local labor market, she said.

The jobless rate typically spikes at its highest level of the year in January, and Miller said she’s concerned there could be a significant increase.

At the same time, though, other indicators continue to reflect an improving market.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase. Miller said 229 job orders were posted in December, nearly 23 percent more than the same month last year. For all of 2014, a total of 3,516 orders were posted. That’s a 14.5 percent increase over 2013 and the highest number since 2008, she said.

Meanwhile, 177 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in December, a 50 percent drop from the same month last year. For 2014, a total of 2,625 claims were filed, a 22 percent decrease.

Miller said she hopes some of the momentum gained during 2014 along with increasing business confidence will help to bolster the labor market in 2015. “We hope to hold on to some of that.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates remained unchanged in neighboring Western Colorado counties in December at 4.5 percent in Delta County, 3.6 percent in Garfield County, 5 percent in Montrose County and 3.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 4 percent in December. That’s the lowest  level since the rate stood at 4 percent in October 2007.
In December 2013, the rate stood at 6.2 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls in Colorado increased 4,700 as an increase of 5,500 private-sector jobs more than offset a decline of 800 government jobs. The largest gains were in the business and professional services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls increased 62,300 with the biggest gains in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services and construction sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls fell an hour to 34.1 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 13 cents to $26.35.