Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated from what historically has been the highest level of the year.

That decline, albeit slight, coupled with rising labor demand raises hopes the jobless rate will slide farther. “It is in the right direction,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County edged down a tenth of a point to 9.1 percent in February. That rate is lower than the 9.9 percent reported in the same month last year and the lowest for a February since 2009, Miller said.

The unemployment rate in Mesa County historically spikes at its highest level of the year in the first month of the year, and Miller hopes that continues this year. “January is usually the roughest month of the year, hopefully.”

According to CDLE estimates for February, Mesa County payrolls increased 227 to 71,222. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged down 23 to 7,129. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and employed, rose 204 to 78,351.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have climbed 697, a gain of about 1 percent. The number of those counted among the unemployed has dropped 656. The labor force has inched up 41.

Meanwhile, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since 2008, Miller said.

A total of 224 job orders were posted at the center in February and 271 more orders were posted in March through March 28. Those numbers bring the year-to-date total to 696, the most for that span since 2008.

Miller said she expects the pace of hiring to pick up in part as employers add to seasonal payrolls.

More will be known when the labor estimates for March come out on April 19 — although the jobless rate for March has ticked up in three out of the last four years, Miller said.

And it could be a while before the unemployment rate in Mesa County falls to rates reported for many other areas of Colorado, she said. For one thing, no industry sector has yet to replace the jobs lost to a slowdown in regional natural gas exploration and production. In fact, the energy industry has shifted gears to oil production, which accounts in part for the lower jobless rates in some Colorado communities, she added.

That makes continued efforts to recruit new and different businesses to Mesa County all the more important, Miller said.

For February, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates increased in three neighboring Western Colorado counties: up a tenth of a point to 7 percent in Rio Blanco County, up two-tenths to 8.7 percent in Delta County and up three-tenths to 10.8 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate held steady at 7.8 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down a tenth to 7.2 percent, the lowest level since February 2009.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 10,800, nearly all of that in the private sector. Government payrolls increased 700.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 62,800 with the largest gains in the professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. The information sector was alone in experiencing a significant decline.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 34.5 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings increased $1.20 to $25.20.