Mesa County jobless rate increases

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has increased as layoffs in the energy sector exceed seasonal hiring.

The jobless rate could go even higher in the new year with the combination of further slowing in the energy sector and layoffs after the holidays.

“It could be a higher number than what we’ve seen in the past,” said Curtis Englehart, an administrator with the Mesa County Department of Human Services.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose four-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in November.

The increase reversed what had been a generally downward trend in the jobless rate to the lowest level of this year. The rate stood at 4.8 percent at this time a year ago.

For November, Mesa County payrolls slipped 382 to 69,065. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 290 to 3,694. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged down 92 to 72,759.

Over the past year, payrolls have decreased 980. The ranks of the unemployed have increased 154. The labor force has shrunk 826 and remains well below peak employment of 84,000 in November 2009.

The monthly unemployment rate also increased in Mesa County between October and November 2014, so there could be some seasonal factors in play. But Englehart attributed the latest gain to layoffs in the energy industry related to low oil and natural gas prices. Those layoffs have exceeded seasonal hiring for the holiday shopping season, he said.

An increase in initial claims for unemployment benefits also supports that view.

For November, 269 claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County. That’s an increase of  more than 7 percent over October and 36.5 percent over the past year.

For the 11-month span between January and November, 3,046 claims were filed in Mesa County. That’s a 24 percent increase over the same period in 2014.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has lagged. For November, 323 job orders were posted at the center, down  16.3 percent from the same month last year. For the span between January and November, 4,854 job orders were posted. That’s a decrease of almost 11.8 percent.

The monthly jobless rate typically spikes in January to its highest level of the year as people hired for the holidays lose their jobs. The coming increase could be bigger, though, given the layoffs in the energy sector, Englehart said.

There’s potential some people who worked in the energy industry could find new jobs in manufacturing as demand for that sector picks up, Englehart said. Over the long-term, there’s hope efforts to promote economic development will result in more jobs.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in November: up four-tenths of a point to 3.8 percent in Garfield County, 4.9 percent in Rio Blanco County and 5.2 percent in Delta County and up a half point to 4.6 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate retreated another two-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent with increases in total employment and labor force participation.

Nonfarm payrolls actually declined 2,100, though, with losses in the professional and business services and financial activities sectors. Government payrolls decreased 400. Those losses more than offset gains in the construction and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide unemployment rate has retreated seven-tenths of a point to the lowest level since June 2007.

Nonfarm payrolls have increased 44,200 with the largest gains in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services and construction sectors. Government employment increased 4,000. The largest private-sector job declines have occurred in the mining and information sectors as well as the trade, transportation and utilities sector.

Over the past year, the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has shortened three-tenths of an hour to 34.1 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 66 cents to $27.32.