Mesa County jobless rate retreats to a two-year low

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level in nearly two years even as labor demand continues to increase, particularly for energy and transportation jobs.

“We definitely have seen more activity in the job market,” said Suzie Miller, an employment specialist with the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell a full point in September to 8.5 percent.

With declines in each of the last three months, the jobless rate has dropped to its lowest level since it stood at an even 8 percent in November 2009. At this time last year, the rate was 9.5 percent.

According to CDL estimates for September 2011, Mesa County payrolls grew 1,045 to 70,816. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 705 to 6,616. The overall work force edged up 340 to 77,432.

Payrolls and the overall work force remain below levels of last year.

Nonetheless, Miller said she’s encouraged by the combination of a decreasing unemployment rate and increasing work force over the past three months. “I would say things are pretty positive.”

The latest numbers aren’t surprising, she said, given the increasing number of job orders posted at the workforce center.

Through Oct. 21, 161 job orders had been posted at the center for the month, about even with the same span in 2010, but well ahead of levels in 2009 and even 2008, Miller said. Each job order usually involves two or three job openings and sometimes more.

Year to date, 2,309 job orders had been posted at the center, well ahead of similar figures for 2010 and 2009 and only slightly less than 2008, she said.

Labor demand remains strongest for job openings related to the energy and transportation sectors, Miller said. And there’s actually a shortage of skilled applicants for openings for welders and machinists, she added.

Miller said she hasn’t yet observed a seasonal increase in hiring in the retail sector for the upcoming holiday shopping season and remains uncertain when and to what extent that will occur.

More generally, Miller believes hiring probably has hit a plateau and won’t increase substantially for the remainder of the year. Even with a lower monthly unemployment rate, thousands of people remain out of work, she added. But labor trends have prompted more people who were discouraged to resume the hunt for jobs. “We’ve got some encouraging signs.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also dropped in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in September: down four-tenths to

7.7 percent in Delta County, down a half point to 7.3 percent in Garfield County and down seven-tenths to 8.6 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate edged up a tenth to 5 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped two-tenths to 8.3 percent after holding at 8.5 percent for three straight months. At this time last year, the rate stood at 8.8 percent.

According to the results of a separate survey of businesses, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado actually fell 3,900 in August with a loss of 5,000 private-sector jobs and a gain of 1,100 government jobs.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 23,100 with a net gain of 24,600 jobs in the private sector and a net loss of 1,500 jobs in government. The largest job gains have occurred in the leisure and hospitality; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. Employment has declined in the construction, financial activities and information sectors.

The average work week for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has increased two-tenths of an hour to 34.6 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 30 cents to $23.92.