Mesa County jobless rate rises

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate continues to trend upward in Mesa County, but separate statistics reflect improving labor conditions.

“Things are looking so much better overall,” said Celina Kirnberger, 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 unadjusted unemployment rate climbed to 3.7 percent in November. That’s three-tenths of a point higher than October, but still a half point lower than this time last year.

Meanwhile, the number of job orders posted at the center has increased on a year-over-year basis even as claims for unemployment benefits have decreased.

For November 2017, Mesa County payrolls edged down 129 to 70,439. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose 275 to 2,728. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, rose 146 to 73,167.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,524 — about 2.2 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have declined 299. The overall labor force has grown 1,225, but remains below peak levels of 84,000 in 2009.

Kirnberger said it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of what’s been an rising jobless rate in Mesa County. The rate fell to 3 percent in August — the lowest level since October 2007 — but since has increased.

Meanwhile, other numbers continue to indicate improving labor conditions, she said.

A total of 643 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in November, a 57 percent increase over the same month last year. For all of 2017, 7,638 job orders were posted. That’s a jump of 48 percent over 2016.

A total of 187 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County during November. That’s a decline of 17.6 percent from the same month last year. Through November 2017, 1,950 claims were filed. That’s a decrease of  nearly 31.2 percent compared to the same span in 2016.

The monthly unemployment rate could edge up in December, and the jobless rate historically spikes in January to its highest point of the year. But Kernberger expects rates to remain below levels of a year ago. “I definitely don’t expect to see it go back to what it was.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in November: up a half point to 3.6 percent in Delta County, up four-tenths of a point to 3 percent in Garfield and Montrose counties and up two-tenths of a point to 3.7 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose two-tenths of a point to 2.9 percent as the number of people looking for work exceeded the increase in those who were employed.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 1,800, with the largest gain in the construction sector.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has edged down a tenth of a point. Nonfarm payrolls have swelled 45,300 with the largest gains in the business and professional services; leisure and hospitality; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has held steady over the past year at 33.3 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 89 cents to $27.85.