Mesa County jobless rate seesaws up

Suzie Miller
Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

While the monthly unemployment rate has seesawed back up in Mesa County, the long-term outlook for labor conditions remains mostly upbeat.

At 4.5 percent, the latest jobless rate is almost half what it was at the start of 2014. “We certainly have to look at that as a positive sign,” said Suzie Miller, manager of business services at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County increased four-tenths of a point to 4.5 percent in November. The gain matched the drop the month before. At this time last year, however, the rate was higher at 7 percent.

For November, Mesa County payrolls fell 665 to 72,952. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 281 to 3,438. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, slipped 384 to 76,390.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 1,185 even as the ranks of the unemployed have declined 1,983. The labor force has decreased 798.

The shrinking labor force remains a concern, Miller said. Mesa County has yet to regain the jobs lost in downturns in the economy and regional energy exploration and production. The energy boom that preceded the bust was unsustainable, though, while recent growth reflects a more diverse and sustainable economy, she said.

The downward trend in the unemployment rate as well as several other indicators reflect what she described as a “slow and steady move in the right direction.”

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center continues to increase, Miller said. For November, 386 orders were posted, 46 more than the same month last year.

Labor demand is spread out over a number of industry sectors, Miller said, and includes openings for positions in sales, office administration, transportation and construction and extraction. The increase in openings in construction and extraction, a sector that pays higher wages, is especially encouraging, she said.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance edged up by six to 197 in November. But that number remains 22 below November 2013 and about half of what was recorded in November 2009, Miller said.

Miller said she hopes the downward trend in the unemployment rate in 2014 continues in 2015 — starting with smaller spikes in the jobless rate that typically occur in January and February.

Employers are more upbeat about the coming year, and that could result in more hiring, Miller said. “I get that sense.”

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Slope counties in November: rising three-tenths of a point to 4.4 percent in Delta County and 4.9 percent in Montrose County, four tenths of a point to 3.7 percent in Garfield County and a half point to 3 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted jobless rate slipped two-tenths of a point to 4.1 percent in November, the lowest level since January 2008. At this time last year, the rate stood at 6.3 percent.

Nonfarm payrolls in Colorado fell 2,500, however. A decrease of 3,700 jobs in the private sector more than offset a gain of 1,200 government jobs. Employment declined in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have grown 54,400 with the largest gains in the construction, education and health services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has decreased four-tenths of an hour to 34.4 hours over the past year. At the same time, average hourly earnings have increased 74 cents to $26.72.