Mesa County jobless rate rises

Phil Castle
Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A decrease in payrolls and increase in the unemployment rate in Mesa County in November might constitute a disappointment. But 2018 still saw an overall improvement in local labor conditions that’s expected to resume in 2019.

“I do feel good about 2019,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate rose four-tenths of a point to 4 percent.

The latest unemployment rate stands 1.7 points higher than May, when the rate dropped to its lowest level since 2007. At this time last year, the rate was 3.6 percent.

For November, Mesa County payrolls decreased 471 to 73,472. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 352 to 3,100. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, edged down 119 to 76,572.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 860, nearly 1.2 percent. The ranks of the unemployed also have grown — 396. The labor force has increased 1,256.

Englehart said he was a bit surprised by the November labor estimates, but attributed the situation in part to the effects of colder weather on such outdoor jobs as construction.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center lagged in November with 577 orders, 66 less than the same month last year. Through the first 11 months of 2018, 7,679 orders were posted. That’s up 611 from the same span in 2017.

For November, 165 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County, down 22 from the same month last year. Through the first 11 month of 2018, 1,809 claims were filed. That’s down 141 from the same span in 2017.

Englehart compared the November labor estimates to winning three games of a four-game series in baseball, but then losing the fourth game. The series was still a success, but the loss leaves a sour taste.

Overall, 2018 was a “very impressive year” for the local labor market, he said. But additional increases in the jobless rate could be in store for December as well as January. The December estimates are scheduled for release Jan. 18.

Englehart said he remains optimistic about 2019 as efforts over the past five years to diversify the Mesa County economy continue to pay off. “Locally, I think we’re in a really good spot.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Slope counties in November — two-tenths of a point to 4.6 percent in Rio Blanco County, three-tenths of a point to 3.7 percent in Delta County and four-tenths of a point to 3.3 percent in Garfield County and 3.5 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged up a tenth of a point to 3.3 percent as the number of people looking for work exceeded the number of those who reported themselves as employed.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 1,800 with gains in business and professional services as well as the trade, transportation and utilities sector. Gains more than offset declines in the construction, education and health services, financial activities and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, the jobless rate has climbed three-tenths of a point even as nonfarm payrolls have swelled 69,100. The largest employment gains have occurred in the leisure and hospitality; professional and business services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls slipped two-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.2 hours. Average hourly earnings for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls have increased $1.52 to $29.46.