Mesa County jobless rate holds at 10-year low

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate remains at a 10-year low in Mesa County even as labor demand continues to grow.

“I like where we’re at,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County held steady at 3 percent in September. That’s the lowest level since October 2007. At this time last year, the rate stood at 4.6 percent.

A measure of labor demand continues to increase even as the number of people receiving unemployment benefits decrease from a year ago, Englehart said.

For September, labor estimates for Mesa County were little changed from August. Payrolls slipped 100 to 71,086. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up two to 2,200. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, decreased 98 to 72,286.

Over the past year, though, payrolls have increased 1,922  or about   2.8 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,122. The labor force has grown 800, but remains below peak employment
levels of 84,000 in 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, Englehart said. For September, 670 orders were posted. That’s an increase of nearly 59 percent over the same month last year. Through Oct. 19, 5,818 job orders had been posted so far this year. That not only tops the same span for 2016, but also the year-end total, he said.

Labor demand has been distributed among a number of sectors, Englehart said, including the health care, hospitality, retail and transportation sectors. “It’s kind of been across the board.”

Meanwhile, unemployment claims and recipients have decreased, Englehart said, For September, 170 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County, down from 182 for the same month last year. While 524 people in Mesa County received unemployment benefits in September, that number was higher at 898 for September 2016, he said.

Englehart said the latest labor numbers reflect an improving economy in which business owners and managers are more confident to expand operations, open new ventures and in turn hire additional staff.

But with a jobless rate at 3 percent, employers have a shallower labor pool from which to draw, he said. That means employers must be more creative in recruiting not only people who are unemployed, but also those who are already working yet looking for better positions or different careers.

Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to hold steady or perhaps even slip a bit lower toward the end of the year.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates remained nearly unchanged in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September, holding steady at 2.7 percent in Delta County and 2.9 percent in Rio Blanco County, edging up a tenth of a point to 2.1 percent in Garfield County and slipping a tenth of a point to 2.3 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose a tenth of a point to 2.5 percent as an increase in the number of people looking for work exceeded the number of those employed.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,000 between August and September as gains in professional and business services and education and health services more than offset losses in financial activities and the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

Over the past year, the Colorado jobless rate has dropped seven-tenths of a point to some of the lowest levels ever recorded. Nonfarm payrolls have grown 41,300 with gains in the professional and business services; education and health care services; and trade, transportation and utilities sector. Construction and manufacturing payrolls have declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped two-tenths of an hour  over the past year to 33.5 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 92 cents to $27.68.