Mesa County jobless rate increases, but so does labor force

The monthly unemployment rate spiked in Mesa County in January, but the labor force also grew to a level higher than any point over the past year.

Curtis Englehart

“It’s really good to start the year with the higher labor force,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

With continued labor demand and more job seekers, Englehart said he’s optimistic about 2022. “I feel like we’re going to see a pretty healthy year.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose six-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in January, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. At this time last year, the rate stood at 7.5 percent.

Labor reports lag at the beginning of the year as the department revises numbers from the year before. The February report is set for release March 25.

The jobless rate typically spikes in Mesa County in January to its highest level of the year with seasonal layoffs following the holidays and winter weather affecting outdoor work.

The labor force constitutes another labor market indicator, though, and in January grew 394 to 78,140. That’s higher than at any point in 2021, Englehart said.

Payrolls edged down 58 to 74,640. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 452 to 3,500.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls have increased 4,690. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 2,175. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 2,515.

Since January, Englehart said he’s seen an increase in hiring and the number of job openings filled. While a labor shortage persists, he said he’s hopeful the situation will improve. “It does feel like it’s moving in the right direction.”

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains higher than last year, Englehart said. For January, 1,017 job orders were posted, a 41.8 percent increase over the same month last year. The gain was smaller for February with 740 orders. That’s 36 more than February 2021.

While labor demand remains strong across most industry sectors, it’s more pronounced in health care, he said.

Another event connecting employers and potential employees is set for 1 to 5 p.m. April 27 with the Grand Valley Career Fair in Lincoln Park in Grand Junction. The workforce center will join with Colorado Mesa University in staging the event, Englehart said.

Looking ahead, Englehart said he expects the unemployment rate to retreat in Mesa County even as the labor force continues to grow.

Seasonally unadjusted jobless rates also rose in neighboring Western Colorado counties in January: up seven-tenths of a point to 4.2 percent in Delta County, up a half point to 3.9 percent in Montrose County and 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County and up three-tenths of a point to 3.4 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 4.1 percent. That’s the lowest level since the rate stood at 2.8 percent in February 2020.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 6,700 in Colorado between December and January. Over the past 21 months, Colorado has regained 368,400 of the 374,500 jobs lost between February and April 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 147,500 with the biggest gains in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 33.6 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $3.15 to $34.27.