Mesa County jobless rate increases

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

 The monthly unemployment rate increased in Mesa County between September and October for the first time in four years.

Still, the latest jobless rate remains lower than this time last year even as labor demand remains at its highest level since 2007.

“Are we better off than we were last year? Yeah,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County rose two-tenths of a point to 8.3 percent in October.

The increase from September to October was the first in the county since 2008, when the full effects of the recession hit. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.5 percent.

According to CDLE estimates, Mesa County payrolls fell 555 in October to 74,787. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 113 to 6,767. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 442 to 81,554.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have grown 1,952, an increase of almost 2.7 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have remained nearly unchanged, however.

Miller said 352 new claims for unemployment benefit were filed in Mesa County during October, the most since 377 claims were filed in January.

Many of the most recent claims involve people who continue to work on a part-time basis, but have had their hours reduced, she said.

At the same time, though, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since 2007, Miller said.

A total of 212 job orders were posted in October, down slightly from the same month last year. However, 2,550 job orders were posted between the beginning of the year and Nov. 19, the most for that span since 2007. Each job order usually involves two or more openings and sometimes more.

The recent openings of T.J. Maxx and Tractor Supply outlets in Grand Junction have helped to bolster payrolls. The opening of a Sprouts organic foods store in January will create more than 90 additional positions, Miller said.

But at the same time, a Choice Hotels call center in Grand Junction will close at the end of the year, and more than 120 employees face layoffs, she added. In addition, seasonal employment with local construction firms has ended for some workers.

Miller said she remains “cautiously optimistic” labor conditions in Mesa County will continue to improve on a long-term basis, although the numbers could vary from month to month.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in October, up three-tenths to

7.3 percent in Garfield County, up a tenth to 9.5 percent in Montrose County and up three-tenths to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County. Delta County was the lone exception, with a two-tenths of a point drop in its jobless rate to 7.4 percent.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth of a point to 7.9 percent.

According to CDLE estimates, nonfarm payrolls increased 8,600 in October with nearly all of that gain in the private sector. The largest gains were reported in the professional and business services; education and health services and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 42,100 in Colorado.

Private-sector payrolls increased 38,800, while government payrolls increased 3,300.

During that same span, the average workweek on private nonfarm payrolls fell four-tenths of an hour to 35 hours. But average hourly earnings increased 36 cents to $24.67.