Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

After three consecutive months of increases, the unemployment rate has retreated in Mesa County as seasonal hiring picks up and labor conditions improve.

While the jobless rate remains slightly higher than a year ago, the labor market is better, said Celina Kirnberger, business services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “Things are definitely improved. Overall, it’s a better picture.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate decreased four-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in September, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

With gains in each of the three previous months, the jobless rate climbed 1.3 points higher than May, when the rate stood at its lowest level since 2007. Even with the decline, the latest rate remains a tenth of a point higher than the same month last year.

For September, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,084 to 73,553. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 288 to 2,729. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 796 to 76,282.

Over the past year, payrolls have edged up 555 — or nearly eight-tenths of a percent. The ranks of the unemployed have increased 102. The labor force has grown 657.

Kirnberger said unemployment rates typically trend down in Mesa County in September and October as seasonal hiring picks up in the retail and hospitality sectors.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center eased in September with 614 orders — down almost 9 percent from the same month last year. Kirnberger said stores, restaurants and hotels usually fill seasonal openings without posting job orders.

Through the first three quarters of 2018, 6,481 job orders were posted at the center. That’s an almost 10.5 percent increase over the same span in 2017. Labor demand remains the strongest in the health care and construction sectors, Kirnberger said.

Meanwhile, 144 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in September. That’s down almost 15.3 percent from the same month last year. Through the first three quarters of 2018, 1,464 claims were filed. That’s a drop of nearly 7.9 percent from the same span in 2018.

Kirnberger said she expects the unemployment rate to hold steady until layoffs after the holidays send the rate back up.

The labor market has improved, she said, as the Mesa County economy has diversified. “Overall, I think we’re in a pretty good place.”

On the other hand, the unemployment rate has dropped enough and job openings become prevalent enough that some employers struggle to recruit qualified applicants, she said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September: eight-tenths of a point to 3.9 percent in Rio Blanco County, six-tenths of a point to 3.2 percent in Delta County, four-tenths of a point to 3.1 percent in Montrose County and three-tenths of a point to 2.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose two-tenths of a point to 3.1 percent as the number of people looking for work exceeded those who reported themselves as employed.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 5,100 between August and September, with the biggest gains in the education and health services and financial activities sectors.

Over the past year, the Colorado unemployment rate has crept up a tenth of a percent even as nonfarm payrolls have swelled 77,200. The largest employment gains have occurred in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has lengthened eight-tenths of an hour to 34.3 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.63— or almost 5.9 percent —  $29.40.