Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate has dropped in Mesa County along with the number of peopled counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work.

A lower jobless rate, strong labor demand and growth over the last year in the labor force all point to improving conditions expected to continue through 2019, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “We’re going to finish strong through the rest of the year.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County fell three-tenths of a point to 3.2 percent in August, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. With decreases in six of the last seven months, the jobless rate has retreated 2.6 points since January. At this time last year, the rate stood at 3.9 percent.

For August 2019, Mesa County payrolls decreased 287 to 74,896. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased more — 303 to 2,440. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrank 590 to 77,336.

Over the past year, though, payrolls increased 1,965 even as the ranks of the unemployed decreased 550. The labor force grew 1,415 or nearly 1.9 percent.

Englehart attributed the decrease in payrolls in August in part to high school and college students leaving summer jobs to return to school. Otherwise, the latest labor numbers are encouraging, he said. “We’re still seeing a lot of positive activity.”

The number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has edged down, but labor demand remains strong, he said. For August, 728 job orders were posted, down 19 from the same month last year. Through the first eight months of 2019, 5,300 orders were posted. That’s a decrease of 567 and almost 9.7 percent from the same span in 2018.

Englehart said the decrease reflects in part the difference between a mild winter in 2018 and more inclement weather in 2019 that hindered local construction and maintenance activity and, in turn, hiring.

Initial claims for unemployment benefits edged up by three to 153 in August. Through the first eight months of 2019, 1,245 claims were filed, down 75 from the same span in 2018.

Looking ahead, Englehart said he expects the monthly jobless rate to continue to trend downward.

Hiring for the holiday shopping season soon will begin and for many job seekers could lead to full-time jobs, he said. “It’s a great opportunity to get your foot in the door with a company and could lead to permanent employment.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates fluctuated in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August, edging up a tenth of a point to 2.4 percent in Garfield County and slipping a tenth of a point to 3.6 percent in Rio Blanco County. Jobless rates held steady at 2.9 percent in Delta County and 2.7 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate inched down a tenth of a point to 2.8 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 9,000.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate retreated six-tenths of a point as nonfarm payrolls swelled 64,900. The biggest job gains occurred in the professional and business services, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened three-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.5 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.21 to $30.11.