Mesa County jobless rate spikes, but lowest for January since 2009

Suzie Miller

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County once again spiked in January, but at 9.2 percent was at the lowest level for the month since 2009.

Other measures of the local labor market offer at least some consolation conditions are slowly improving, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It is possible to see something positive about it.”

Still, the Mesa County jobless rate remains well above state and national rates. And Miller expects only small changes for the near future.

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County climbed to 9.2 percent in January, up three-tenths of a point from a revised 8.9 percent in December.

The increase was hardly surprising, Miller said, since the jobless rate tends to spike at its highest level of the year in the first month of the year. However, the latest rate was the lowest for a January since 2009, when the rate was 6.6 percent. At this time last year, the rate stood at 10.3 percent.

According to the CDLE estimates for January 2013, Mesa County payrolls decreased 607 to 70,878. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 173 to 7,147. The overall work force, which includes the employed and unemployed, fell 434 to 78,025.

Over the past year, though, Mesa County payrolls have increased 1,402, a 2 percent gain. The number of those counted among the unemployed has dropped 801. The overall workforce grew 601.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Miller said.

A number of other measures of the Mesa County labor market also offer some encouragement, Miller said. The number of new unemployment insurance claims dropped in February to 272, the lowest number since June.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center increased in February to 244, three more than the same month last year and 88 more than February 2010.

A job fair hosted by center in February was well attended and each of the 40 employers participating in the event hired at least one new employee. Many of the employers hired multiple employees, Miller said.

If the trend continues, the Mesa County unemployment rate won’t move higher than 9.2 percent in 2013, although Miller said it’s unclear when the jobless rate will come back in line with state and national rates.

The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate also increased three-tenths of a point in two neighboring Western Colorado counties in January, climbing to 7.8 percent in Garfield County and 6.9 percent in Rio Blanco County. The jobless rate edged down  a tenth to 8.5 percent in Delta County and held steady at 10.5 percent in Montrose County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped two-tenths of a point to 7.3 percent. The state rate has dropped a full point over the past year.

Nonfarm payrolls grew an estimated 7,100 in January with the addition of 8,200 jobs in the private sector and the loss of 1,100 government positions.

Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 57,000 with the largest gains in the professional and business services; trade, transporation and utilities; and leisure and hospitality sectors.