Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate continues to retreat in Mesa County, but would move even lower if businesses weren’t struggling to fill job openings

“There are a ton of job opportunities out there, but they’re having a difficult time filling them,” said Curtis Englehart, director of 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 declined four-tenths of a point to 6.8 percent in April. 

A year ago, when the local labor market suffered the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions, the jobless rate spiked to 12.8 percent. The rate has dropped by nearly half since then.

For April 2021, Mesa County payrolls rose 759 to 71,085. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work declined 264 to 5,188. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased 495 to 76,273.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls increased 8,882. The ranks of the unemployed fell 3,935. The labor force grew 4,947.

While Englehart said he’s grateful the jobless rate has decreased, the latest numbers belie a far tighter labor market in which demand outpaces the supply of available job seekers.

For April, 1,046 job orders were posted at the workforce center. That brings the total number of orders posted at the center in 2021 through April to 3,338. The construction, health care and manufacturing sectors have been hit hardest, Englehart said, but labor shortages have affected most sectors.

He attributed the situation in part to a $300 federal stipend added to weekly unemployment benefits that’s kept some job seekers on the sidelines.

A new incentive program in Colorado offers the unemployed $1,600 if they return to full-time work in May and $1,200 if they return to work in June. Claimants become eligible for the first half of the incentive after four weeks of full-time employment and become eligible for the remaining half after eight weeks on the job.

Rather than serving as an unemployment office, the Mesa County Workforce Center serves as an employment office in helping people find jobs as well as employers fill openings, Englehart said. In addition to posting job openings, the center hosts hiring events, screens applicants and can cover part of the wages for new hires as they’re trained. More information about programs and services is available by calling 248-7560 or visiting www.mcwfc.us.

Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to continue to trend downward, but hopes more job seekers will fill openings to speed the process.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also retreated in neighboring Western Colorado counties in April: down four-tenths of a point to 5.6 percent in Garfield County, down seven-tenths of a point to 5.9 percent in Delta County, down eight-tenths of a point to 5.6 percent in Montrose County and down 1.3 points to 5.8 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged at 6.4 percent although nonfarm payrolls increased 17,000 from March to April. The leisure and hospitality sector accounted for 9,900 jobs, while payrolls increased 2,900 in education and health services.

Over the past year, Colorado has gained back 247,700 of the 375,800 jobs lost between February and April 2020. The largest gains have occurred in the leisure and hospitality; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls lengthened an hour over the past year to 33.7 hours. Average hourly earnings decreased 97 cents to $31.08.