Mesa County jobless rate holds steady

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County remains unchanged with only a small differences in the latest estimates for the number of people who are employed and those looking for work.

Seasonal hiring continues, though. And a slowdown in oil and natural gas development related to low prices has yet to have significant effects in the local labor market, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The fact the jobless rate didn’t move higher offers some encouragement, Miller added.

According to  the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County held steady at 6.2 percent in March.

The jobless rate jumped to 6 percent in January, then moved even higher to 6.2 percent in February, the first time the rate increased between January and February in six years Over the past few years, the rate has gone up and down between February and March, so there’s no typical trend, Miller said.

From a longer-term perspective, the monthly unemployment rate was higher at 7.7 percent at this time last year and  hit 12 percent in March of 2010, she said.

For March 2015, Mesa County payrolls edged up 149 to 68,875. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work was fell by one to 4,535. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 148 to 73,410.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 562 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,130. The work force has dropped 568 and remains well below a work force that topped 80,000 in March 2008 and an employment peak that topped 84,000 in November 2009.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped from 352 in February to 313 in March. But the latest number is higher than the 252 claims in March 2014, Miller said.

Labor demand as measured by the overall number of job orders at the Mesa County Workforce Center declined with 484 orders in March, Miller said. That’s down nearly 21 percent from the 610 job orders posted for the same month last year.

But counting only those job orders processed by the staff at the center, orders increased from 310 for March 2014 to 362 for March 2015.

Miller said demand for seasonal workers in landscaping and maintenance has remained strong, as has demand for administrative and office workers and truck drivers. As seasonal hiring continues to pick up as summer nears, Miller said she’s hopeful the unemployment rate will come down.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates edged down in neighboring Western Colorado counties in March, slipping a tenth of a point to 4.9 percent in Garfield County, two-tenths of a point to 6.9 percent in Delta County and 6.2 percent in Montrose County and three-tenths of a point to 6.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 4.2 percent for a third straight month.

Nonfarm payrolls in Colorado declined 3,900 with a decrease of 4,600 private sector jobs more than offsetting a gain of 700 government jobs. The biggest month-over-month decline occurred in the professional and business services sector.

Over the past year, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado has dropped 1.3 points even as nonfarm payrolls have grown 67,700. The largest gains have occurred in the construction, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has slipped four-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.5 hours, Average hourly earnings have increased 45 cents to $26.84.