Mesa County jobless rate, labor pool drop

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County continues to drop, but along with it a labor pool that’s drained to its lowest level in nearly eight years.

Annette Miller
Annette Miller

With fewer people in the work force, employers could face more difficulty in finding qualified applicants for job openings, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County fell more than a point to 6.9 percent in April. That’s the lowest level since December. At this time last year, the jobless rate stood at 8 percent.

At the same time, though, the overall labor force in Mesa County dropped nearly 1,200 in April to 75,520. Miller said that’s the lowest number since May 2006. “It’s certainly concerning to see that number continue to drop.”

The labor force has declined more than 10 percent since it peaked at 84,235 in November 2008.

For April 2014, the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 927 to 5,181, although the number of people receiving unemployment benefits in Mesa County actually edged up in April, Miller said. Mesa County payrolls edged down 271 to 5,181.

Over the past year, payrolls have declined 390, or about a half percent. The ranks of the unemployed have retreated 976, or almost 16 percent. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, has dropped 1,366, or almost 1.8 percent.

Miller said it’s difficult to attribute the declining work force to any one factor. Some people could have moved out of the area, while others stopped looking for work.

Although lower in April, the jobless rates in Mesa County and other areas of the Western Slope remain higher than other areas of Colorado where the economy has rebounded more robustly. According to the April estimates, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates fell to 6.8 percent in Delta County, 5.7 percent in Garfield County and 7.9 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate dropped to just 4.2 percent in Rio Blanco County, although the overall workforce there numbers only 4,563.

By comparison, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates fell to 5.5 percent in Greeley, 4.4 percent in the Fort Collins and Loveland area and 4.2 percent in the Boulder and Longmont area.

Still, labor demand in Mesa County remains steady, Miller said. Through May 19, 183 job orders had been posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center during the month. That’s three more than the 180 orders posted for the same span in 2013, Miller said.

Seasonal hiring continues, and two new truck stops opening in Grand Junction are expected to employ a total of about 60 people, she said. There’s also a concentrated effort this year to promote summer hiring for high school and college students, she said.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Colorado dipped two-tenths of a point in April to 6 percent. The last time the state rate was at 6 percent or lower was in November 2008.

Nonfarm payrolls increased an estimated 13,900 in April with more hiring in the leisure and hospitality, education and health services and professional and business services sectors. Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 70,800.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has slipped two-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 76 cents to $26.25.