Mesa County jobless rate moves up

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate has climbed in Mesa County, but remains below levels of a year ago. Meanwhile, separate measures continue to reflect increasing labor demand and decreasing rolls for those receiving unemployment benefits.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose four-tenths of a point to 3.4 percent in October.

The increase from September to October was the first since 2012, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It was an interesting month, for sure.”

The jobless rate historically trends downward toward the end of the year as seasonal hiring picks up for the holidays, Englehart said. Still, the latest rate remains below the 4.2 percent posted for October 2016 and close to the lowest levels in Mesa County in a decade.

For October 2017, Mesa County payrolls slipped 441 to 70,417. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged up 257 to 2,457. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, decreased 184 to 72,674.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 1,215 even as the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 575. The overall labor force has grown 640, or about nine-tenths of a percent, but remains below peak levels of 84,000 in 2009.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, Englehart said.

For October, 607 orders were posted. That’s an increase of more than 48 percent from the 409 orders posted in October 2016. Through Nov. 16, 6,777 orders had been posted so far this year. That tops not only the total for the same span in 2016, but also the year-end total, Englehart said.

Demand remains strongest for positions in the retail, hospitality and health care sectors, along with office and administrative support positions, Englehart said.

Holiday hiring begins earlier every year and was strong in September and October, he said. But even as seasonal hiring picks up in retail, there are some seasonal layoffs in other sectors, he added.

Job openings at the workforce center attracted applicants from the Front Range, which Englehart said he suspects reflects a larger trend as people look to relocate to a place with less traffic and more outdoor recreation. That should help employers faced with a shallower labor pool from which to draw, he said.

Meanwhile, unemployment insurance claims and recipients have decreased in Mesa County, he said. For October, 174 initial claims for benefits were filed, down from 205 for the same month last year. While 526 people received benefits in October, the number was higher at 839 for October 2016.

Englehart said he expects the unemployment rate to remain steady or slip a bit in Mesa County over the next two months. The jobless rate historically spikes in January to its highest level of the year, but Englehart said he hopes the increase will be smaller

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in October, rising six-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent in Rio Blanco County, a half point  to 2.6 percent in Garfield County and three-tenths of a point to 2.6 percent in Montrose County and 3 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose two-tenths of a point to 2.7 percent as the increase in the number of people looking for week exceeded the increase in those who were employed.   Nonfarm payrolls increased 1,400 with gains in the construction, information and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has retreated four-tenths of a point. Nonfarm payrolls have swelled 37,800 with the largest gains in the professional and business services; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped two-tenths of an hour to 34 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 73 cents to $27.96.