Mesa County jobless rate spikes, but hiring activity picking up

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

While the Mesa County unemployment rate spiked again in January, increased hiring activity since then buoys the outlook for the coming year.
“I’m still a little bit optimistic looking at our job orders,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.
According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate jumped 1.4 points to 5.8 percent in January. At the same time last year, though, the rate was higher at 6.6 percent.
Labor statistics lag at the beginning of the year because of an annual process the labor department goes through to review and revise numbers for the previous year. February job numbers are scheduled to come out March 24.
January numbers are usually disheartening in reflecting layoffs after the holidays and a lull in seasonal hiring for the construction and hospitality sectors, Englehart said. But actual conditions often have changed by the time the estimates are released, he said.
For January, Mesa County payrolls shrank 1,605 to 66,231. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work grew 900 to 4,057. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, declined 705 to 70,288.
Rising unemployment rates and a declining labor force constitute a bad combination for a labor market, Englehart said. But other numbers offer something of a silver lining, he added.
For January, 408 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center, only two less than the same month last year. Moreover, those job orders included 195 openings for permanent positions, 36 more than last year, Englehart said.
Through March 1, 967 job orders have been posted at the center, up from 825 for the same span last year. The number of job orders for permanent positions increased from 322 to 504, he said.
There’s been increasing labor demand in the health care sector as well as for positions in sales and office and administrative support, Englehart said.
Meanwhile, 255 initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed in Mesa County in January, down from 301 for the same month a year ago. There were 1,378 recipients of unemployment insurance in the county in January, less than half the 2,947 recipients a year ago, Englehart said.
The unemployment rate should retreat in coming months as additional hiring occurs for construction and landscaping jobs, he said.
Over the longer term, efforts continue to promote work force development, Englehart said. Mesa County is home to the first Work Force Ready Community in Colorado, earning certification under a program streamlining the process of connecting businesses looking for employees with applicants looking for jobs.
For January, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also spiked in neighboring Western Colorado Counties, climbing 1.6 points to 6 percent in Rio Blanco County, 1.1 points to 5.8 percent in Delta County, a point to 4.6 percent in Montrose County and nine-tenths of a point to 3.8 percent in Garfield County.
The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped a tenth of a point to 2.9 percent in January. That’s the lowest level since the rate stood at 2.8 percent in February 2001.
Nonfarm payrolls increased 7,900 with the biggest gains in the financial activities, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors. Construction employment dropped.
Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has dropped a half point even as nonfarm payrolls have grown 50,200, or 2.3 percent. The largest private sector job gains have occurred in the education and health services, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors. Payrolls have declined in the manufacturing and mining and logging sectors.
The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has increased over the past year four-tenths of an hour to 33.8 hours. Average hourly earnings have decreased 71 cents to $26.70.