Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly jobless rate in Mesa County continues to retreat as payrolls increase and the ranks of the unemployment shrink.

While the trend is expected to continue, many employers remain hesitant to make significant staffing additions that would speed the pace.

“They’re still a little bit reluctant,” said Jessica Marler, administrator of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest statistical snapshot from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County declined another two-tenths of a point to 7.9 percent in March.

The unemployment rate has declined four-tenths of a point since spiking at 8.3 percent in January, when the jobless rate typically hits its highest point of the year.

In March 2013, the jobless rate in Mesa County was nearly a full point higher at 8.8 percent. But as recently as December, the jobless rate was almost a point lower at 7 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for March 2014, Mesa County payrolls increased 408 over the month to 70,766. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work slipped 98 to 6,108. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 270 to 76,844.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have grown 1,081, or about 1.5 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 600, or nearly 9 percent. The overall work force has grown 451, just six-tenths of a percent.

Marler said she expects the monthly unemployment rate to continue to decline in Mesa County in part as seasonal hiring heats up along with the spring weather. “We think it’s going to slowly come down.”

A total of 291 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in March, she said.

There haven’t been any significant increases in labor demand, though, and Marler said she’s unaware of any new or expanding businesses that would create a major hiring event.

Many employers remain wary of expanding staffing, Marler said. “They’re just being really cautious still.”

For March, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates remained unchanged at 9.6 percent in Montrose County and 5.4 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate slid two-tenths of a point to 8.1 percent in Delta County and rose two-tenths of a point to 7.1 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth of a point to 6.2 percent despite an estimated increase of 3,300 nonfarm payroll jobs over the past month. An increase in the number of people looking for work exceeded an increase in the number of people reporting themselves as employed, boosting the ranks of those counted among the unemployed.

The largest gains in nonfarm payrolls were reported in the trade, transportation and utilities sector and construction sector. Professional and business services reported a net loss of jobs.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have increased 61,000 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour over the past year to 34.8 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.11 to $26.37.