Mesa County jobless rate retreats as labor demand increases

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has declined even as labor demand has increased to its highest level in four years.

After spiking at 9.6 percent in January, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate retreated to 9.3 percent in February, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Suzie Miller

Meanwhile, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction has increased to its highest level since 2008. “This is the best start to a year we’ve seen in four years,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the center.

While some employers remain cautious about hiring additional workers, Miller said she’s hopeful trends signal an improving labor market. “We look at this as very positive.”

While the February unemployment rate in Mesa County remains above levels seen late last year, it’s far lower than the 11 percent posted in February 2011.

Year-over-year comparisons also reflect increases in payrolls and decreased in the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work. Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,694 to 71,604. The number of unemployed has declined 1,238 to 7,378.

Miller said 709 job orders were posted at the center between the beginning of 2012 and March 30, the most in that span since 2008.

Miller considers 2008 a prerecession benchmark. The unemployment rate in February 2008 was much lower, however, at just 3.8 percent as employers faced labor shortages.

Each job order usually involves two or three job openings, sometimes more. Those openings are spread out over a number of occupational sectors, Miller said, among them sales, construction and extraction, office and administration and transportation.

Some employers remain hesitant to hire, Miller said. “I still feel like there’s a little caution in the air.” But overall, trends point to improving labor conditions, she said.

The seasonally unadjusted jobless rate also retreated in three of four neighboring Western Colorado counties in February. The rate dropped six-tenths to 8.8 percent in Delta County, a tenth to 8.4 percent in Garfield County and a two-tenths to 5.9 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The unemployment rate edged up a tenth to 11.1 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.8 percent in February despite an estimated increase in nonfarm payrolls of 4,700.

Private sector payrolls rose 2,700 with gains in the education and health services and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Government payrolls grew 2,000.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 48,000 with 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 has increased a half hour to 34.4 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 24 cents to $24.33.