Mesa County jobless rate increases

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate has increased in Mesa County on the combination of an increase in the number of people looking for jobs and a decrease in the number of those on payrolls.

What’s been a more general trend toward lower jobless rates and a growing labor force is expected to soon resume, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “I think we’re still trending in the right direction.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a point to 3.9 percent in July, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. With gains in each of the last two months, the jobless rate now stands a full point higher than in May, when the rate retreated to its lowest level since 2007. At this time last year, the rate also stood at 3.9 percent.

For July, the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 183 to 2,934. Payrolls edged down 94 to 72,862. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, inched up 89 to 75,796.

As the number of people looking for work outpaces payroll gains, the unemployment rises. Small changes become more pronounced if the jobless rate is lower, Englehart said.

By one estimate, nearly 6,000 people have relocated from Denver to Grand Junction over the past year, he said. And many of those relocated before securing employment.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,714. The ranks of the unemployed have crept up 40. The labor force has grown 1,754 — nearly 2.4 percent — but remains below peak employment of 84,000 in 2009.

Englehart said he expects the monthly employment rate to trend back down and the labor force to continue to grow.

A measure of labor demand slipped in July compared to a year ago, but 2018 continues to outpace 2017, Englehart said.

For July, 774 job orders were posted at the workforce center, down nearly 5.3 percent from the same month last year. Through the first seven months of 2018, 5,120 job orders were posted, up 16.7 percent from the same span in 2017.

Labor demand remains strong in a number of industry sectors, Englehart said, including positions in construction, energy, health care, hospitality and office administration. Moreover, there’s been an increase in the number of hiring events the workforce center stages, he said.

Meanwhile, 168 initial claims for unemployment benefits were reported in Mesa County in July, up 5.6 percent from the same month last year. For the first seven months of 2018, 1,170 claims were filed, down almost 7.4 percent from the same span in 2017.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates were mixed in neighboring Western Colorado counties in July. The jobless rate rose a tenth of a point to 3.5 percent in Delta County and three-tenths of a point to 4 percent in Rio Blanco County, The jobless rate edged down a tenth of a point to 2.7 percent in Garfield County and two-tenths of a point to 3.1 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate inched up a tenth of a point to 2.8 percent in July as the number of people looking for work exceeded the number of those who found jobs.

Nonfarm payrolls grew 2,800 as gains in the professional and business services; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors outpaced losses in construction and other services.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has held steady. Nonfarm payrolls have swelled 77,700 with the largest increases in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has lengthened two-tenths of an hour to 34.5 hours over the past year. Average hourly wages have increased $1.12 to $28.77.