Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate has seesawed back down in Mesa County as businesses reopen and bring back employees furloughed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re starting to see people get back to work, and we’re excited to see what,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Barring a surge in COVID-19 cases and related closures, Englehart expects the downward trend in the jobless rate to continue. There’s a long way to go, though, before labor conditions return to pre-pandemic levels.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped 3.6 points to 9 percent in May, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The decrease was among the biggest among metropolitan areas in Colorado, a decline Englehart attributed in part to the variances Mesa County has received from state orders that have allowed businesses to reopen and expand operations faster than in other areas.

Mesa County payrolls increased 4,401 to 69,276. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 2,512 to 6,866. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, expanded 1,889 to 76,142.

Compared to a year ago, when the jobless rate stood at 3 percent, payrolls have contracted 5,173. The ranks of the unemployed have swelled 4,580. The labor force is smaller by 593.

Englehart said the drop in the jobless rate from 12.6 percent in April, the highest level in a decade, was nearly entirely a result of employees returning to work following business restrictions and closures in March and April.

The downward trend in unemployment should continue in June, he said.

Since peaking at 2,583 for the week ending March 28, initial filings for unemployment benefits have declined nine consecutive weeks. For May, the pace of filings slowed from 578 for the week ending May 2 to 241 for the week ending May 30.

A move to the next phase of guidelines for pandemic restrictions would allow businesses to further expand operations, Englehart said. More outdoors events also would be permitted.

While businesses bringing back workers account for most of the gain in payrolls, some businesses also are hiring new employees, Englehart said. “It’s a mix of both.”

A total of 421 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in May, he said. That’s a decrease from the 796 orders posted for the same month last year, but an increase over April.

The Mesa County Workforce Center has reopened, but for appointments only, Englehart said. Hours run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 248-7560. Staff remains available to provide services to people filing for unemployment benefits and looking for work as well as employers recruiting new hires.

Staff also collaborates with the Mesa County Health Department to help businesses implement social distancing, cleaning procedures and other pandemic practices, Englehart said.

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in neighboring Western Colorado counties in May: 3.7 points to 10 percent in Garfield County, three points to 9.3 percent in Montrose County, 2.5 points to 8 percent in Delta County and 1.5 points to 6 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to 10.2 percent, down two points from a rate revised upward to 12.2 percent for April.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 68,800 between April and May with the biggest gains in the leisure and hospitality, education and health, manufacturing and construction sectors.

Compared to a year ago, the unemployment rate has increased 7.4 points from 2.8 percent. Nonfarm payrolls have contracted 236,200.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has lengthened over the past year a half hour to 33.7 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.17 to $31.39.