Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated for a second straight month with an increase in payrolls and a decrease in the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work.

The downward trend in the jobless rate typically continues through the end of the year as seasonal hiring picks up for the holidays.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped seven-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in August, according to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The jobless rate was slightly lower at 5.1 percent at this time last year.

Overall, though, the latest labor report is a good one, said Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It’s definitely good to see for us.”

Since climbing to 6.6 percent in June, a seasonal spike attributed in part to college and high school students looking for summer jobs, the unemployment rate has fallen 1.3 points.

For August, Mesa County payrolls increased 411 to 68,818. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 528 to 3,820. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged down 117 to 72,638.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 722, or 1 percent. The ranks of the unemployed also have grown 164, nearly 4.5 percent. The labor force has increased 886 — about 1.2 percent — but remains well below a peak force of 84,000 in November 2009.

Mesa County continues to lag behind other areas of Colorado that have experienced more robust growth in their labor markets and lower unemployment rates, Englehart said. Hiring has picked up locally, however, for office and administrative positions as well as jobs in the construction, hospitality and transportation sectors, he said.

A measure of labor demand increased in August with 481 job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, Englehart said. That’s up 8.8 percent from the same month last year. For the first eight months of 2016, 3,563 job orders have been posted at the center. That’s down nearly 3.6 percent from the same span in 2015.

Englehart said he remains hopeful what have been month–to-month increases in job orders will boost year-to-date numbers past 2015 levels.

Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance moderated with 230 new filings in August. That’s down almost 5 percent from the same month last year. There were 1,044 unemployment benefits recipients in Mesa County during August 2016, down 9.2 percent from August 2015, he said.

Englehart expects more people to find jobs at a job fair set for Sept. 27 at the Mesa County Workforce Center. While 35 employers already have signed up, there’s still room for a few more. “We’re always looking to pack the place.”

All of those employers are looking to fill open positions, he said.

The center also has scheduled a breakfast meeting for Sept. 28 to introduce business owners and managers to the Work Ready Communities initiative under way in Mesa County. The initiative will promote work force and economic development over the long-term, Englehart said, in quantifying and them marketing a skilled work force.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August, declining two-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in Rio Blanco County and three-tenths of a point to  4.7 percent in Delta County, 3.3 percent in Garfield County and 3.9 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate held steady at 3.8 percent although nonfarm payrolls increased 4,100.

Over the past year, the Colorado unemployment rate has edged up a tenth of a point even as payrolls have grown 71,600. The largest gains have occurred in the construction, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased nearly an hour to 33.9 hours. Average hourly earnings have declined 31 cents to $26.99.