Mesa County jobless rate holds steady

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate holds steady in Mesa County as increasing labor demand offers more opportunities for those looking for work, but businesses encounter more difficulty finding qualified employees.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Unemployment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate held steady at 3.6 percent in July. The latest rate remains higher than the 3.3 percent level reported for May, but lower than the 5.7 percent reported for July 2016.

“I think it’s another good month,” said Curtis Engelhart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Englehart said he expects the monthly jobless rate to hold steady or perhaps even slip during the second half of the year.

For July, Mesa County payrolls grew 364 to 69,595. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up 40 to 2,816. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed,  increased 404 to 72,213.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,762. The ranks of the unemployed have dropped 1,461. The workforce has grown 301, 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 has increased, Englehart said. For July, 816 orders were posted with openings for a total of 358 full-time permanent positions. For the same month last year, 512 job orders were posted with openings for 178 full-time permanent positions.

Year to date through Aug. 18, 4,853 job orders have been posted at the center with openings for a total of 2,300 full-time positions. For the same span in 2016, 3,386 orders were posted with openings for 1,330 full-time permanent positions, he said.

While labor demand is more widely distributed among industry sectors, demand remains strongest in the construction, transportation, health care and hospitality sectors, he said. “There’s a ton of opportunities out there for job seekers.”

At the same time, though, the lower jobless rate has made it more difficult for businesses to find qualified employees, he said.

Circumstances have changed from a time not long ago when the labor pool was deeper, but employers were reluctant to hire, he said. “It’s kind of flip flopped.”

For the staff of the Mesa County Workforce Center, the focus has been on matching job seekers with skills with businesses with openings while also helping those with gaps in their skills fill them, Englehart said.

One of those efforts offers apprenticeships in the manufacturing industry. The program offers eight weeks of paid training, including classroom instruction at Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction as well as onsite training at local manufacturers. Registration remains open for applicants interested in enrolling in the program, Englehart said.

In the meantime, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates slipped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in July: down three-tenths of a point to 3.2 in Rio Blanco County, down two-tenths of a point to 3.1 percent in Delta County and down a tenth of a point to 2.4 percent  in Garfield County and 2.8 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth of a point to 2.4 percent as an increase in the number of people looking for work outpaced job gains. The jobless rate remains near the lowest level recorded for Colorado since the latest statistical series began in 1976.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 3,600 from June to July with gains in the construction, financial activities and information sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has dropped a point even as nonfarm payrolls have 43,400. The largest job gains occurred in the education and health; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has lengthened six-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.10 to $27.72.