Mesa County jobless rate jumps, but spike lowest since 2009

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The jobless rate in  Mesa County once again spiked in January, but at 8.3 percent was at the lowest level for the month since 2009.

Moreover, increasing demand for seasonal and full-time positions offers encouragement labor conditions since have improved, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

What’s more worrisome for Miller is a labor force that’s decreased more than 8,000 from its pre-recession peak. A shallower labor pool makes it more difficult for businesses that are hiring to find qualified applicants.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County climbed to 8.3 percent in January, up 1.3 points from a revised 7 percent in December. State labor estimates are delayed at the beginning of the year because of a process of reviewing and revising numbers for the previous year.

Miller said the January increase wasn’t surprising since jobless rates tend to hit their highest point of the year in the first month of the year. But the latest rate was actually the lowest for a January since 2009. At this time last year, the rate stood at 9.8 percent.

Compared to recent years, unemployment rates reflect slow improvement, she said. As recently as 2012, 8.3 percent was the lowest reading for the year, not the highest.

According to the CDLE estimates for January 2014, Mesa County payrolls decreased 1,516 to 69,617. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 898 to 6,290. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 618 to 75,907.

Miller said labor conditions likely have improved since January. Nearly 400 job orders are posted at the workforce center for openings in food service and hospitality, installation, maintenance and repair; office and administrative positions and sales.

Seasonal hiring has picked up, and hiring also was strong at a job fair the workforce center hosted in February.

Nonetheless, the labor force continues to shrink, likely the result of a combination of some people moving away from the area to find jobs elsewhere and other people simply giving up on efforts to try to find work, Miller said.

Other areas of Colorado not only have regained jobs lost during the recession, but also increased payrolls. In Mesa County, however, the latest estimate for the overall work force was 789 lower than a year ago and 8,328 below the peak work force of 84,235 reported in November 2008.

Considered together, Miller said the labor numbers reflect slowly improving conditions, but also show how far the county still has to go.

For January the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also increased in four neighboring Western Colorado Counties: 1.4 to 9.8 percent in Montrose county, 1.3 to 8.3 percent in Delta County, a point to 6.8 percent in Garfield County and seven-tenths of a point to 5 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a point to 6.1 percent, the lowest level since December 2008. At this time last year, the rate stood at 7.2 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 7,300 in January with the biggest gains in the leisure and hospitality, construction and education and health services sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls increased 63,200 with the largest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped a tenth of an hour to 34.2 hours. Average hourly earnings increases $1 to $26.11.

Revised figures show Colorado regained the jobs lost during the recession when nonfarm payroll jobs reached a new level of 2,367,300 in April 2013, higher than the previous employment peak recorded in May 2008. Payroll jobs topped 2.4 million in October 2013. The annual growth rate of nonfarm payroll jobs for 2013 was revised upward from 2.4 percent to 3 percent.