Mesa County jobless rate retreats

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has dropped below 9 percent for the first time this year as the latest labor estimate finally reflects what’s been rising labor demand.

There’s hope, too, that hiring at several new retailers will lead to additional jobs elsewhere and the start of a trend that ultimately will bring down jobless rates even more.

“If we can continue with a little bit of momentum, maybe we can chip away at a little bit of the unemployment rate,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally un-adjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dropped a half point in August to 8.8 percent.

That’s the lowest level since the jobless rate held at 8.5 percent between September and November of 2011. That makes August only the fourth month since March 2009 in which the unemployment rate was below 9 percent.

According to the CDLE estimates, Mesa County payrolls rose 550 to 74,159. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 443 to 7,114. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged up 107 to 81,273.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have grown 1,769, or nearly 2.5 percent. The overall workforce has grown 1,490, or almost 2 percent.

Miller said the lower unemployment rate finally reflects what’s been higher labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center.

For August, 273 job orders were posted at the center. That’s slightly less than the 277 orders posted in August 2011, but more than the 248 orders posted in August 2008, before the full effects of the recession were felt and the unemployment rate stood at 4.1 percent, Miller said.

Each  job order usually involves two or three job openings, and sometimes more.

Between the beginning of this year and Sept. 20, 2,180 job orders were posted at the center, one more than the 2,179 job orders posted during the same span in 2008. “We’re running at the 2008 pace and we continue to do so,” Miller said.

There’s another measure of labor demand in the more than 140 people who will go to work following a hiring event conducted earlier this month at the center for T.J. Maxx and Tractor Supply Co,, Miller said. The clothing and accessories outlet and farm and ranch supply store soon will open in Grand Junction. More than 100 additional jobs are expected to become available with the opening of a natural foods grocery store in Grand Junction early next year.

Since hiring at retailers tends to lead to additional jobs in other industry sectors, Miller said she hopes some momentum will build up before the onset of what’s usually a seasonal downturn in employment in winter.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also fell in neighboring Western Colorado counties in August: down two-tenths to 10.1 percent in Montrose County, down three-tenths to 8 percent in Delta County, down four-tenths to 7.6 percent in Garfield County and down seven-tenths to 5.2 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged down a tenth to 8.2 percent in August. Nonfarm payrolls remained unchanged as a loss of 1,700 jobs in the private sector exactly offset an increase of 1,700 jobs on government payrolls.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have increased 33,000 with the biggest private-sector gains in the professional and business services, construction and financial activities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has increased from 34.5 to 34.9 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 82 cents to $23.66.