Mesa County jobless rate rises

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate has increased in Mesa County as a pandemic and winter weather affect businesses and their staffing.

“It’s definitely a combination of things,” said Celina Kirnberger, employment services supervisor at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The trend could continue for several months, although vaccines offer encouragement for slowing the spread of COVID-19, Kirnberger said.

Moreover, businesses have responded in creative ways to continue selling products and services, she added. “I feel like that’s a slight silver lining.”

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose three-tenths of a point to 6 percent in November. The increase was the first in four months.

The latest rate is more than double the 2.8 percent rate posted a year ago, one of the lowest on record for the county. But the latest rate is less than half the 12.6 percent rate posted in April.

For November 2020, Mesa County payrolls decreased 448 to 74,045. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 248 to 4,725. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, declined 200 to 78,770.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls have decreased 598. The ranks of the unemployed have increased 2,563. The labor force has grown 1,966.

Kirnberger attributed the increase in the jobless rate in November to the effects of the pandemic as well as seasonal slowing in construction, landscaping and other outdoor activities related to winter weather.

One measure of labor demand — the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center — offers mixed results, she said.

For November, 686 job orders were posted. That’s up more than 37 percent from the 499 orders posted for the same month last year. However, the number of job openings involved nearly dropped by half — from 1,903 to 986.

Kirnberger said the latest job orders reflect continued demand in the health care sector as well as openings for such temporary jobs related to the pandemic as contact tracing and cleaning.

New claims for unemployment benefits increased in November to 455, Kirnberger said. That’s up from 329 in October and 151 in November 2019.

Kirnberger said the unemployment rate could continue to trend upward in coming months as a result of the pandemic and seasonal layoffs. The jobless rate historically spikes in January to its highest level of the year because of layoffs following the holidays and the effects of winter weather on sectors involving outdoor work.

Longer-term prospects depend on how well vaccines work in slowing the spread of the pandemic and reopening the economy, she said.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also advanced in neighboring Western Colorado counties in November, up four-tenths
of a point to 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County, 5.5 percent in Montrose County and 5.8 percent in Garfield County. The rate rose three-tenths of a point to 5.6 percent in Delta County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained unchanged for a second straight month at 6.4 percent. Nonfarm payrolls declined 6,900 from October to November, ending a six-month streak of monthly job gains. Colorado has gained back 209,600 of the 342,300 jobs lost between February and April.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have decreased 128,200 with the biggest losses in the leisure and hospitality and education and health service sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has lengthened seven-tenths of an hour over the past year to 33.9 hours. Average hourly earnings have increased 49 cents to $31.15.