Mesa County jobless rate remains at four-year low

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

It’s official: 2013 ended with the monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County at its lowest level in nearly four years.

The question now, though, is whether 2014 will begin with a higher jobless rate and, if so, how much higher.

If history repeats itself, the rate will move higher, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We could probably expect a spike in the unemployment rate in January.”

Nonetheless, the overall trend in the jobless rate in Mesa County has been downward, falling more than two points during 2013. At the same time, one measure of labor demand has climbed to its highest level in six years. “That’s somewhat encouraging,” Miller said.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County remained unchanged at 6.9 percent in December. That rate matched November not only for the lowest reading in 2013, but also the lowest reading since the rate stood at 6.4 percent in January 2009.

For December 2012, the jobless rate was higher at 8.9 percent.

For December 2013, Mesa County payrolls edged down 756 to 71,974. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work was essentially unchanged at 5,373. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 757 to 77,347.

Over the past year, payrolls have inched up 489 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 1,601. The overall labor force has shrunk 1,112 in what Miller believes to be a combination of people moving away from the area or simply giving up on job searches.

The state isn’t scheduled to report labor estimates for January until March 17, following an annual process of revising estimates for the past two years. Typically, though, the jobless rate in Mesa County rises to its highest level of the year in January as a result of layoffs following the holidays and seasonal slowing in construction employment because of what’s usually cold winter weather.

Activity at the workforce center this January was busy, however, Miller said. About 150 people showed up at a hiring event to apply for what’s expected to be 30 positions at a Sears outlet store opening in the former City Market store in the Eastgate shopping center in Grand Junction. More than 40 employers actively recruiting new hires participated in a job fair.

“All those things this time of year will be helpful,” Miller said.

For December, 177 job orders were posted at the workforce center. That brought the total number of job orders posted at the center during 2013 to 3,006. That was the highest annual number since 3,695 job orders were posted in 2007.

For December, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates were mixed in neighboring Western Colorado counties. The jobless rate rose two-tenths of a point to 7.3 percent in Delta County and a tenth of a point to 8.5 percent in Montrose County. The rate slipped a tenth to 5.8 percent in Garfield County and held steady at 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated another three-tenths of a point to 6.2 percent in December, the lowest level since the rate stood at 6.1 percent in December 2008. At this time last year, the rate was higher at 7.5 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 2,200 as hiring in the private sector more than offset a small decline in government employment. The largest gains occurred in the leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have increased 43,900 with the largest gains in the professional and business services, education and health services and construction sectors.