Mesa County jobless rate jumps in June

Phil Castle, Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The unemployment rate increased in Mesa County in June — something of seasonal speed bump attributed in part to college and high school graduates entering the labor market, but not yet finding jobs.

But at three-tenths of a point, the June jump this year was smaller than last year. Moreover, the latest jobless rate is lower at 3.6 percent.

While a shrinking labor force remains something to watch, overall conditions have improved, said Curtis Englehart, former director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It’s really a much different outlook.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose in Mesa County from 3.3 percent to 3.6 percent between May and June, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Last year, the rate spiked from 5.8 percent to 6.7 percent.

Between May and June 2022, Mesa County payrolls decreased 992 to 75,046. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased  273 to 2,833. 

The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 719 to 77,879. The labor force has declined three consecutive months — small decreases Englehart said don’t raise alarms, but the trend is worth watching.

Over the past year, payrolls increased 3,094 — or 4.3 percent. The ranks of the unemployed decreased 2,316. The labor force grew 778.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has slowed from what Englehart said was an unsustainable pace last year. 

For June, 862 orders were posted. That’s down from 1,060 for the same month last year. For the first half of 2022, 4,968 orders were posted. That’s down from 5,567 for the first half of 2021.

Englehart said the latest numbers of job orders remain healthy, but also indicate more employers are filling positions in a tight labor market.

Looking ahead to the second half of 2022, Englehart said he expects the unemployment rate to edge down. But the decreases likely will be incremental since the jobless rate has remained below 4 percent for four straight months.

Barring any unforeseen events, the outlook is encouraging, he said. “I think Mesa County is in a really good place for 2022.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also rose in neighboring Western Colorado counties in June: up two-tenths of a point to 3.4 percent in Delta County and up a tenth of a point to 3.1 percent in Montrose County and 3.8 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate held steady at 2.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated a tenth of a point to 3.4, the lowest level since the rate stood at 2.8 percent in February 2020 before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,500 between May and June.

Over the past 26 months, nonfarm payrolls increased 412,300, more than offsetting jobs lost in early 2020 because of the pandemic and related restrictions.

Over the past year, payrolls increased 111,700 with the biggest gains in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. No sectors lost jobs during that period.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened six-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.2 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $2.61 to $34.21.