Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate has retreated in Mesa County despite a slowdown in the energy sector related to low prices.

“We have to look at this as something positive considering what we were anticipating,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in grand Junction.

According to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County slipped two-tenths of a point to 6 percent in April.

Miller said that’s the lowest jobless rate for the month since 2008, although the rate at that time was nearly half as much at 3.2 percent with a larger labor force. For April 2014, the jobless rate stood at 6.8 percent.

For April 2015, Mesa County payrolls edged up 243 to 69,089. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work slipped 92 to 4,437. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 151 to 73,526.

Over the past year, payrolls have increased 606 while the ranks of the unemployed have decreased 586. The overall labor force  has dropped 180 and remains well below a labor force that topped 80,000 in April 2008 and peaked above 84,000 in November 2009.

A total of 319 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County during April 2015. That’s more than the 225 filings for April 2014, but less than the 352 filings in February 2015, Miller said.

While there have been layoffs in the extraction sector related to low oil and natural gas prices, they haven’t yet been as dramatic as initially feared and have occurred gradually rather than all at once, Miller said.

Some small layoffs also have occurred in other sectors, including those involving retail and customer service jobs, Miller said. Plus, she’s noticed some slowing in activity at hiring events.

While seasonal hiring tends to pick up in the spring and summer, Miller said a lot of that occurred in March this year.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has held steady, though, with 505 orders posted in April. That’s only slightly lower than the 510 orders posted the same month last year.

Construction and extraction, sales and office and adminstrative  positions account for a total of 320 job orders, Miller said. But are also the three occupations that account for the highest number of people looking for work — a total of about 6,700.

Meanwhile, though, Miller said she expects more students to land summer jobs this year.

The full effects of slowing in energy exploration and development could play out as the year progresses. But there’s also hope the unemployment rate could continue to trend downward, Miller said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dipped in neighboring Western Colorado counties in April, slipping three-tenths of a point to 6.6 percent in Delta County, 4.6 percent in Garfield County and 5.9 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate edged down a tenth to 6.1 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.2 percent for a fifth straight month. At this time last year, the state jobless rate stood at 5.4 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 4,200 in April with private-sector gains in leisure and hospitality and health and education services. Government payrolls grew 1,200. Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 63,200 with the largest gains in the construction, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased over the past year a half hour to 33.6 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 50 cents to $26.85.