Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate continued to retreat in Mesa County in September even as the labor force grew to its highest level in nearly eight years.

Those diverging trends reflect improving labor conditions in a county that’s generally fared better than others in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It’s really good to have another solid month for Mesa County.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped a half point to 5.7 percent in September. That’s still more than double the 2.8 percent rate jobless rate posted at this time last year, one of the lowest on record for the county.

For September 2020, Mesa County payrolls increased 2,403 to 74,947. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 284 to 4,535.

The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 2,119 to 79,482. That’s one of the highest levels since the labor force topped 80,000 in 2012.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls dropped 412. The ranks of the unemployed more than doubled at 2,395. The labor force increased 1,983.

Since hitting 12.6 percent in April, the jobless rate has dropped nearly seven points.

Englehart said Mesa County has fared better than other areas of Colorado in the midst of the pandemic and been able to implement less stringent public health orders. That’s helped business and in turn employment, he said. “It feels like we’re open. It feels like we’re getting back to a little sense of normalcy.”

A measure of labor demand — the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center — also has rebounded, Englehart said. For September, 597 job orders were posted. That’s four more than the same month last year. “September activity felt like a normal month.”

Labor demand remains strongest in health care, but there were job orders from most sectors, he said.

Through the first three quarters of 2020, 4,585 job orders were posted. That’s down more than 22 percent from the same span in 2019.

A total of 141 new filings for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in September, three more than the same month last year. Through the first three years of 2020, 10,164 new filings were reported. That’s a more than a five-fold increase over the same span in 2019, Englehart attributed to the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to continue to decline through the end of the year as holiday hiring increases.

The outlook also depends, though, on the extent and effects of an increase in COVID-19 cases in Mesa County, Englehart said. “Hopefully, we can stay on top of that.”

As of Oct. 19, Mesa County Public Health reported 1,053 positive cases of COVID-19, including 301 cases in the past two weeks. Six deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also decreased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in September: two-tenths of a point to 5.6 percent in Delta County, 5.4 percent in Garfield County and 5.3 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate retreated three-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased three-tenths of a point to 6.4 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 13,400 from August to September with gains spread out across a number of industry sectors. Since May, Colorado has regained 194,100 of the 342,300 jobs lost between February and April. Compared to a year ago, payrolls have decreased 134,300.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls shortened 1.3 hours over the past year to 32.8 hours. Average hourly earnings increased 31 cents to $31.10.