Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

The unemployment rate has retreated in Mesa County even as the labor force has grown to its largest level in four years.

The two indicators headed in opposite directions bode well for improving conditions, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We’re excited to see what 2018 has in store.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate fell two-tenths of a point to 4.6 percent in February after spiking at 4.8 percent in January. The unemployment rate in Mesa County historically rises to its highest level of the year in the first month of the year in part because of layoffs after the holiday shopping season. The January increase was lower this year than last year, though. The February jobless rate also was lower by two-tenths of a point compared to same month in 2017.

For February 2018, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,137 to 71,373 even as the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 96 to 3,449. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 1,041 to 74,822. Englehart said February was the first month the labor force has topped 74,000 since 2014.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 2,162 — or 3.1 percent — as the ranks of the unemployed have edged down 20. The labor force has grown 2,142, but remains well below the peak of 84,000 reached in 2009.

Englehart said the numbers reflect improving economic and labor conditions as well as more people moving to the area to find jobs. A mild winter meant fewer seasonal layoffs in the construction and hospitality sectors, he said.

A total of 681 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in February, a 26.8 percent increase over the same month last year. For January and February 2018, a total of 1,344 job orders were posted, an increase of 42.8 percent over the same two months last year.

Englehart said labor demand remains strongest for construction, health care, office administration and transportation jobs. But there’s been increased job orders in most sectors, he added.

A total of 165 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in February, only slightly less than the 167 filings for the same month last year. A total of 411 claims were filed in January and February 2018, down from 422 claims for the same two months in 2017. Meanwhile, 916 people received unemployment benefits in Mesa County during February 2018, down 21.8 percent from the same month last year.

The 50 employers enrolled to participate in a March 29 job fair at the Mesa County Workforce Center offers yet another indicator of increasing labor demand, Englehart said. The fair is set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the first 30 minutes reserved for military veterans. Englehart said the event offers job seekers good opportunities to not only meet face-to-face with prospective employers, but also land jobs. “It really is a good time to be a job seeker.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates were little changed in neighboring Western Colorado counties in February, holding steady at 4.2 percent in Montrose County, 4.5 percent in Rio Blanco County and 4.8 percent in Delta County. The jobless rate slipped a tenth of a point to 3.5 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 8,600.

Over the past year, the state jobless rate has increased three-tenths of a point. Nonfarm payrolls have grown 63,400 with the biggest gains in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has lengthened four-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.3 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 88 cents to $28.32.