Mesa County jobless rate retreats to six-month low

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has retreated to its lowest level in six months, but a shrinking work force remains a concern.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County fell three-tenths of a point to 9.8 percent in April.

With decreases in each of the last three months, the rate is now at its lowest level since it stood at 9.5 percent in October. In April 2010, the rate was 10.6 percent.

Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, said the lower jobless rate was a pleasant surprise. But Lujan also said he’s worried about the decreasing size of the labor force.

According to the CDLE, the employed labor force in Mesa County edged up 137 to 69,264 in April. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 1,144 to 7,524. The overall labor force — the total of the employed and unemployed — fell 1,007 to 76,788.

At this time last year, the employed labor force was slightly larger at 70,800, but so were the ranks of the unemployed at 8,367. The overall labor force was estimated at 79,167.

Lujan attributed part of the lower unemployment rate in April to increased seasonal hiring in the construction, manufacturing and leisure and hospitality sectors. “That’s definitely good news right there.”

About 200 job orders are posted at the center, a number that’s held mostly steady since February even as openings are filled.

Lujan said he’s concerned, though that the shrinking labor force reflects people moving out of Mesa County to take advantage of better job prospects elsewhere as well people who’ve become discouraged and given up on job searches.

A smaller labor force can help pull the unemployment rate down, he said. But the better situation occurs when the overall labor force grows even as the jobless rate declines. “Then we’re seeing something healthy in the economy.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also fell in four neighboring Western Colorado counties in April: down a point to 9.4 percent in Delta and 6.4 percent in Rio Blanco counties, down 1.3 points to 9.4 percent in Garfield County and down1.6 points to 11.2 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate slipped four-tenths of a point to 8.8 percent in April as nonfarm payrolls grew 2,200.

The state unemployment rate is now at its lowest level since December, while nonfarm payrolls have increased 8,200 over the past year.

“The increase in payroll jobs and decrease in the unemployment rate is encouraging news,” said Ellen Golombeck, executive director of the CDLE. “We would like to see these trends continue for several months before reading too much into the numbers.”

For April, job gains were spread out among a number of industry sectors, including the trade, transportation and utilities sector as well as the leisure and hospitality sector. Construction employment fell.

Over the past year, the private sector has added 11,700 net new jobs, while government payrolls have declined 3,500. The largest gains have occurred in the education and health services; leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors. The largest declines have occurred in the construction, information and financial activities sectors.

Over the year, the average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls in Colorado rose 24 minutes to 34.2 hours, while average hourly earnings remained unchanged at $23.87.