Mesa County jobless rate slips

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has slipped from what’s usually the highest level of the year as labor conditions gradually improve.

“I think we’re going to see continued, but very slow, improvement,” said Sue Tuffin, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center n Grand Junciton.

Accrording to the latest statistical snapshot from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate in Mesa County declined two-tenths of a point to 8.1 percent in February. “It’s come off our spike in January,” Tuffin said.

The unemployment rate typically hits its highest point of the year in the first month of the year with layoffs following the holiday shopping season, Tuffin said.

Compared to recent years, jobless rates reflect slow improvement. A recently as 2012, 8.3 percent was the lowest reading of the year.

Compared to February 2013, the latest rate is 1.2 points lower.

According to the CDLE estimates for February 2014, Mesa County payrolls increased 869 to 70,428. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work fell 89 to 6,201. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased 780 to 76,629.

Over the past year, Mesa Conty payrolls have increased 954, or about 1.4 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have decreased 935.

The overall work force has increased by just 19 over the past year in Mesa County. But Tuffin said even that meager gain is better than what’s been a downward trend. “At least we seem to be turning the corner a little with that.”

Tuffin cited what she called another encouraging trend in the decline in new filings for unemployment insurance benefits. There was 268 new filings in February, down from 352 in January.

Given what she said as been strong labor demand in March, particularly for seasonal positions in the landscaping industry, Tuffin expects conditions to continue to improve. I still think we’re slowly, slowly seeing a better scene.”

But Tuffin also said she’s concerned conditions haven’t rebounded as quickly or to the same extent as other areas of Colorado. Many business owners remain uncertain and even fearful not only about the economy, but also political changes at the state and federal levels, she said.

If a few businesses would open new operations in Mesa County, that would help to improve confidence and perhaps trigger more hiring, she said. Some local businesses have expanded their operations and staffs, she said, but mostly to a limited degree. “It’s all very slow and very, very cautious.”

For February, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates slipped a tenth of a point in neighboring Delta and Montrose counties. Jobless rate edged up a tenth of a point to 6.9 percent in Garfield County and four-tenths of a pont to 5.4 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unmployment rate remained unchanged at 6.1 percent in February, down a point from this time last year amd still the lowest level since December 2008.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 6,200 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls increased 65,300 with the biggest gains in the professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased four-tenths of an hour over the past year to 34.5 hours.

Average hourly earnings rose 92 cents to $26.23.