Mesa County jobless rate spikes

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate has spiked to one its highest levels ever in Mesa County as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and related restrictions play out in the labor market.

Curtis Englehart

The low number of positive coronavirus cases and efforts to reopen businesses in the county offer encouragement, though, the jobless rate will retreat as more people return to work, said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “I hope this is more temporary than anything.”

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate jumped 5.6 points to 12.6 percent in April, according to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

The latest rate is the highest  since hitting 12.1 percent in March 2010, Englehart said. At this time last year, the rate was 3.3 percent.

Unlike the gradual increase in monthly jobless rates during the Great Recession, the coronavirus  pandemic resulted in sudden business closures and layoffs that sent the jobless rate soaring 8.5 points over the past two months, Englehart said. “This was just an unprecedented spike.”

For April, Mesa County payrolls decreased 6,714 to 64,072. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 3,945 to 9,270. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, contracted 2,769 to 73,342.

Compared to a year ago, payrolls retreated 9,904 even as the ranks of the unemployed advanced 6,741. The labor force shrank 3,163.

A total of 5,412 claims for unemployment insurance were reported in Mesa County in April, Englehart said. The leisure and hospitality and trade, transportation and utilities sectors led the way with job losses, although nearly every sector experienced declines, he said.

Initial claims for unemployment have decreased, however, each week since 2,583 claims were filed for the week ending March 28, he said. For the week ending May 2, 582 claims were filed.

Englehart said he expects lower unemployment claims and a lower unemployment rate has more businesses reopen and more people return to work. “I do feel like we’re making our way out of that.”

Mesa County has requested a variance from state orders to move to the next phase of local pandemic guidelines that ease restrictions. According to the latest numbers from Mesa County Public Health, there have been 52 positive cases of COVID-19 in the county. Nobody is currently hospitalized with the disease.

The workforce center remains physically closed. But staff working remotely continue to provide services to people filing for unemployment benefits and looking for work as well as employers recruiting new hires, Englehart said. For April, 388 job orders were posted at the work force center.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties: 7.4 points to 13.4 percent in Garfield Country, 4.5 points to 12 percent in Montrose County and 2.3 points to 10.2 percent in Delta County. The jobless rate edged down a tenth of a point to 7.3 percent in Rio Blanco County.

Elsewhere in the region, unemployment rates topped 20 percent in Eagle, Gilpin, Pitkin, San Miguel and Summit counties.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped 6.1 points to 11.3 percent, the highest level since comparable records began in 1976.

Nonfarm payrolls decreased 323,500 from March to April with the biggest losses in the leisure and hospitality; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, the jobless rate climbed 8.4 points while nonfarm payrolls dropped 296,200.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour to 32.8 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1.63 to $31.98.