Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped below the 6 percent milestone for the first time in nearly six years as indicators reflect improving labor conditions.

“That is a good sign. It kind of shows the trend of improvement over the last several years,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager 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 dropped eight-tenths of a point to 5.5 percent in August. That’s the lowest level since the jobless rate stood at 4.6 percent in December 2008, Miller said. At this time last year, the rate stood at 7.8 percent.

For August 2014, Mesa County payrolls edged up 142 to 72,084. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work dropped 676 to 4,192. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 534 to 76,276.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have increased 1,579, while the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 1,808. The overall labor force has edged down 229 and remains more than 9 percent below its peak of 84,235 in November 2009.

Miller said the jobless rate typically declines from July to August and usually corresponds with an increase in the overall labor force. This year, though, part of the drop in the labor force could be attributed to the early start of school that pulled students away from summer jobs, she said.

Other indicators offer further encouragement, Miller said.

Labor demand as measured the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increased, she said, with 301 orders posed in August, up from 292 the same month last year.

Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance fell to 200 in August, down from 227 in July, she said. The number of unemployment insurance beneficiaries in Mesa County dropped to 666 in August, down from 975 in August 2013.

According to revised figures, average weekly wages in Mesa County rose to $764 during the first quarter of 2014, up from $745 in the first quarter of 2013 and $716 in the first quarter of 2008, Miller said. “Seeing that increase is a welcome change for us.”

Since monthly unemployment rates typically drop to their lowest levels of the year during the fourth quarter even as seasonal hiring picks up, Miller hopes the downward trend will continue. “We have a little bit of momentum going into the fourth quarter.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August. The jobless rate dropped eight-tenths of a point to 5.3 percent in Delta County and 5.9 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate declined seven-tenths of a point to 3.5 percent in Rio Blanco County and four-tenths of a point to 4.2 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped another two-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in August, the lowest level since September 2008. The statewide jobless rate stood at 6.8 percent at this time last year.

Nonfarm payrolls actually edged down 700 in August as declining employment in the professional and business services and construction sectors more than offset gains in the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors.  A decrease in the number of people participating in the labor forced combined with an increase in the number of people reporting themselves as employed pushed the unemployment rate down.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 54,000, with the biggest gains in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors. Employment has declined in the financial activities and information sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped three-tenths of an hour to 34.6 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 51 cents to $26.02.