Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated from a seasonal peak. But the shrinking labor force continues to raise concerns over local conditions.

“Everything just feels so flat this year,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

There’s hope, though, the jobless rate will continue downward through the remainder of the year. The construction of several large retail outlets also bodes well for the prospect for increased hiring, Miller said.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County declined six-tenths of a point to 5.9 percent in July. The decrease offset what initially was estimated as a seven-tenths of a point jump in June, a seasonal increase attributed in part to an influx of high school and college students looking for summer jobs.

The July jobless rate matches the May rate as the lowest so far this year and is two-tenths of a point lower than this time last year.

For July 2015, Mesa County payrolls were virtually unchanged at 68,679. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work decreased 520 to 4,279. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, dropped 521 to 72,958.

Over the past year, payrolls have slipped 539 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 192. The overall work force has declined 731 and remains well below peak employment of 84,000 in November 2009.

Miller said the decrease in the jobless rate is encouraging, but doesn’t fully reflect local labor conditions.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to decline, Miller said. For July, 533 orders were posted at the center, down from 564 orders posted during the same month last year. Through July, 3,238 orders have been posted so far this year, down from the 3,697 orders posted during the same span in 2014.

Meanwhile, the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance filed in Mesa County continues to rise on a year-over-year basis, Miller said. For July, 264 claims were filed, up from 227 claims for the same month last year. Through July, 2,2028 claims have been filed so far this year, up from 1,686 for same span in 2014.

Still, there’s been strong interest among employers in a job fair set for Sept. 22 at the center, Miller said. The opening of a new Wal-Mart outlet in Clifton and the construction of a new City Market store in Grand Junction will bolster hiring, she added.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also retreated in neighboring Western Colorado counties in July: three-tenths of a point to 5.7 percent in Delta County, six-tenths of a point to 3.9 percent in Garfield County, seven-tenths of a point to 5.1 percent in Montrose County and a full point to 5.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a point to 4.3 percent in July, even though nonfarm payrolls declined 2,200. The month-over-month decrease was only the third over the past year.

The number of people participating in the labor force decreased more than the number of people reporting themselves as employed, pulling down the jobless rate.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 50,200 with the largest gains in the leisure and hospitality, education and health care and construction sectors. Employment in the information and business and professional services sectors declined. The jobless rate has retreated a half point over the past year.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls fell four-tenths of an hour to 34.1 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 60 cents to $26.70.