Mesa County jobless rate rises

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

The Mesa County unemployment rate has increased for the first time in six months, a gain seen more as a seasonal uptick than the beginning of an upward trend.

“I think there’s an overall attitude of this is going to be a good year where we some some positive signs,” said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Suzie Miller

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County rose five-tenths to 9 percent in December.

The increase was the first since June, when the rate climbed four-tenths to 10.3 percent. After declines in June and August, the jobless rate held steady at 8.5 percent for three straight months. At this time last year, the rate stood at 10.4 percent.

According to CDLE estimates for December 2011, Mesa County payrolls fell more than 900 to 70,316. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work rose more than 300 to 6,930.

Payrolls remain higher than this time last year by more than 800. But the overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped to 77,246, more than 300 below last year.

Miller said she wasn’t surprised at the December increase given similar gains most years. “That’s just seasonal, kind of what we expect to see.”

While inclement winter weather is usually blamed for a slowdown in some industry sectors, particularly construction, that hasn’t been the case this year, Miller said. Consequently, there could be other reasons for less activity. “We’re still trying to get a read on that.”

Another measure of the labor market was up in December compared to previous years with a growing number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, Miller said. A total of 181 orders were posted at the center in December, an increase over the past four years, including 2007. Each order usually involves two or three job openings, sometimes more.

Labor demand has increased in several sectors, she said, including energy related jobs as well as installation, maintenance and repair positions. Demand has been particularly strong for experienced machinists. “We’re definitely seeing some rebound.”

Since the unemployment rate in Mesa County typically spikes in January at its highest level of the year, Miller said she wouldn’t be surprised by another gain for the month.

Overall, though, she foresees slow and steady job growth in the coming year without large increases or decreases in the unemployment rate.

“We’re going to have some peaks and valleys, but hopefully they won’t be as dramatic.”

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also edged up in three neighboring Western Colorado counties in December, climbing to 8.1 percent in Delta County, 7.5 percent in Garfield County, 9.1 percent in Montrose County and 5.4 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate edged down a tenth in December to 7.9 percent, a full point below the rate posted at this time last year.

Nonfarm payrolls fell an estimated 4,400 as private-sector employment decreased 4,600 and government employment increased 200. The largest payroll declines occurred in the business and professional services and financial activities sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls in Colorado have grown 23,600 with gains in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services and education and health services sectors.