Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has slipped below 8 percent for the second time in four months.

But even as some statistics point to improving labor conditions, other numbers continue to reflect an economy that’s yet to recover to the same extent as other areas of Colorado and the United States.

As some people have given up on job searches and others have moved away, the labor force in Mesa County has shrunk, 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 dropped four-tenths of a point to 7.9 percent in August.

The latest jobless rate matches that reported in May and marks the second time the rate has dropped below 8 percent since it stood at 7.5 percent in February 2009. At this time last year, the rate was higher at 9.1 percent.

According to the CDLE estimates, the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work in Mesa County fell 363 to 6,122 in August. Payrolls increased 381 to 71,818. The overall work force, which includes the unemployed and employed, edged up 18 to 77,940.

Over the past year, the rolls of the unemployed have shrunk 1,058 even as payrolls have increased 48. But the overall work force remains smaller by 1,012. In contrast, the Mesa County work force topped 83,000 in August 2008, Miller said.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center remains at its highest level since the recession, Miller said. A total of 292 orders were posted during August, more even than the 248 orders posted in August 2008. Meanwhile, the 230 new filings for unemployment benefits in August were fewer than what was reported for the month in each of the previous three years, she said.

Miller said she expects the monthly unemployment rate to continue to trend downward in the fall, a time when jobless rate typically drop to their lowest levels of the year. “Hopefully, we’ll see some good numbers as we go through the fall.”

Still, many job openings are for seasonal or part-time positions, Miller added. And wages remain lower in Mesa County than state and national averages. That’s prompted some people to quit looking for jobs or to look outside Mesa County and move to areas where the economy has more fully recovered. That includes the Denver area, she said. “It feels almost like there’s two economies going on in this state.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates retreated in  three neighboring Western Colorado counties in August: falling a tenth of a point to 6.3 percent in Garfield, three-tenths to 4.9 percent in Rio Blanco County and four-tenths to 8.4 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate rose two-tenths to 7.1 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted rate edged down a tenth to 7 percent in part because of a larger decline in the labor force than total employment. The state jobless rate has dropped a full point since August 2012, but varied only four-tenths of a point this year.

Statewide, nonfarm payrolls decreased 4,300 in August with an estimated loss of 6,800 jobs in the private sector and a gain of 2,500 government jobs. The largest job losses were reported in the leisure and hospitality and financial activities sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 56,800 with the largest gains in the business and professional services, leisure and hospitality and construction sectors.

During that same span, the average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has held steady at 35 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased $1.07 to $25.51.