Mesa County jobless rate holds steady

Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate remains unchanged in Mesa County even as the work force and labor demand increase.

Those trends offer encouragement in the midst of a surge in COVID-19 cases in the county, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “There were some positive things for the month of October.”

The outlook remains uncertain, however, Englehart said, given the potential effects of new restrictions imposed because of the pandemic. Initial claims for unemployment insurance have increased in recent weeks, and more layoffs could be coming. “It’s really hard to say where we’ll be at.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County remained unchanged at 5.7 percent in October. That’s more than double the 2.8 percent jobless rate posted a year ago, one of the lowest on record for the county.

For October 2020, Mesa County payrolls edged up 275 to 74,492. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 39 to 4,521. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 314 to 79,013.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls have decreased 734. The ranks of the unemployed have more than doubled in growing 2,370. The labor force has increased 1,636.

Since hitting 12.6 percent in April, the jobless rate has dropped nearly seven points. Englehart said he expected a slight increase in October based on rising unemployment claims. “I was pleasantly surprised.”

One measure of labor demand — the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center — has increased, he said. For October, 709 job orders were posted. That’s an increase of 9 percent over the same month last year.

Englehart attributed the gain in part to seasonal hiring for the holidays — not only among retailers, but also delivery businesses. There’s also been in increase in hiring for positions related to the pandemic.

Businesses certified through a variance protection program for implementing public health guidelines have been allowed to operate under less restrictive conditions. That’s helped as well, he said.

The weekly number of initial filings for unemployment benefits has increased, climbing to 181 for the week ending Oct. 31. But the numbers remain well below the peak of more than 2,500 in March.

The Mesa County Workforce Center received certification under the variance protection program and remains open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Some limits apply to using the resource room and other facilities there, Englehart said. The center continues to conduct in-person hiring events.

People looking for jobs as well as employers recruiting new hires can call 248-7560 to schedule appointments with staff to receive assistance, he said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates declined in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in October: down two-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in Montrose County and 4.3 percent in Rio Blanco County and three-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in Delta County. The jobless edged up a tenth of a point to 5.5 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 6.4 percent in October.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 21,100 from September to October. Since May, Colorado has regained 217,000 of the 342,300 jobs lost during the onset of the pandemic between February and April. Compared to a year ago, payrolls have declined 111,600.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls lengthened 30 minutes over the past year to 33.6 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 31 cents to $30.84.