Mesa County jobless rate holds steady

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Even as unemployment in Mesa County holds steady at its highest level of the year, slight changes in the labor force and unemployment claims offer a measure of hope of improving conditions.

“It’s somewhat encouraging,” said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Some seasonal hiring continues to occur, but high school and college students hunting for summer jobs face a competitive environment, Kirnberger said.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County remained unchanged at 5.9 percent in April

The jobless rate climbed to 5.4 percent in January and retreated to 5.4 percent before seesawing back up to 5.9 percent in March. The rate was slightly lower at 5.7 percent in April 2015.

For April 2016, Mesa County payrolls edged up 152 to 68,448. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work slipped two to 4,268. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 150 to 72,716.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 736, a gain of about 1 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have increased 195. The overall workforce has increased  931, but remains well below the peak labor of 84,000 in November 2009.

Kirnberger said she’s encouraged by increases in the labor force even as initial claims for unemployment insurance have decreased.

For April, 262 claims were filed in Mesa County. That’s down from 331 claims in March and 319 claims in April 2015. A total of 1,094 claims were filed through the first four months of 2016, down from 1,294 for the same span in 2015.

Still, a measure of labor demand in the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, has decreased, Kirnberger said. For April, 441 job orders were posted. That’s down from 505 orders for April 2015. A total of 1,700 orders were posted through the first four months of 2016, down from 1,826 for the same span in 2015.

Recent hiring events at the center have been well-attended, though, Kirnberger said. And some seasonal hiring continues to occur for construction and landscaping jobs.

Given the number of people looking for employment, students face competition for summer jobs unless they can find the right match, Kirnberger said.

Unemployment rates typically trend downward in Mesa County in the summer and fall, and Kirnberger remains hopeful that will hold true in coming months.

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates held steady in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in April at 5.6 percent in Delta County, 4 percent in Garfield County and 4.7 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate rose four-tenths of a percent to 6.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percent in April to 3.1 percent, coming up from what had been the lowest reading in more than 15 years.

Nonfarm payrolls decreased 2,000 with losses in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Employment increased in the construction and education and health services sectors.

Over the past year, the state unemployment rate has dropped nine-tenths of a percent even as payrolls have grown 67,700. The largest gains have occurred in the construction, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors. Employment in mining and logging has declined.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped four-tenths of an hour to 33.2 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 59 cents to $27.44.