Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County continues to retreat even as labor demand increases. But no dramatic drops in the jobless rate are expected any time soon.

“I think it’s going to inch down a little bit at a time,” said Jessica Marler, an administrator at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County declined three-tenths of a point to 8.8 percent in March. The drop can be attributed in part to a shrinking labor force, however.

Since spiking at 9.2 percent in January, the monthly jobless rate has decreased four-tenths of a point. At this time last year, the rate stood at an even 10 percent. The unemployment rate was higher still at 11.2 percent in March 2011 and 12.1 percent in March 2010.

“We’re heading in the right direction. If we can just get that down a little bit more, I think we’ll be OK,” Marler said.

For March 2013, Mesa County payrolls actually decreased 510 to 70,653.

But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 308 to 6,822. The overall work force, which includes both the employed and unemployed, fell 818 to 77,745.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have edged up 438, while the number of those counted among the unemployed has dropped 962. The overall workforce has declined 524.

A separate measure of labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has increased, Marler said A total of 281 job orders were posted at the center during March — 32 more than the same month last year and about even with March 2011, she said.

A total of 768 job orders were posted at the center during the first three months of 2013, higher than the total for the same span in 2008, before the full effects of downturns in the energy sector and overall economy were felt in Mesa County.

Each job order usually involves two or more openings, sometimes more.

Marler said many of the job orders are for part-time positions, however.

As the weather continues to warm, Marler expects seasonal hiring activity to increase, which also will help to bring down the monthly jobless rate. But she doesn’t expect any dramatic decreases.

For March, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in four neighboring Western Colorado counties: down a tenth of a point to

6.9 percent in Rio Blanco County, down two-tenths to 7.6 percent in Garfield County, down a half point to 10.3 percent in Montrose County and down seven-tenths to 8 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged down another tenth to 7.1 percent as an increase in the number of people reporting their status as employed topped the number of people actively participating in the labor force.

According to CDLE estimates based on business surveys, nonfarm payrolls increased 500 as a net gain of 1,100 jobs in the private sector more than offset a loss of 600 government jobs.

The largest employment gains were reported in the professional and business services, education and health services and construction sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have grown 58,700 with net gains of 55,700 jobs in the private sector and 3,000 jobs in government.

During that same span, the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased three-tenths of an hour to 34.6 hours.

Average hourly earnings increased $1 to $25.23.