Mesa County jobless rate spikes, but outlook encouraging

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The unemployment rate spiked again in January, but remains below the level of a year ago. Meanwhile, increasing job orders and decreasing claims for unemployment benefits bode well for an improving labor market in Mesa County.

“It’s setting us up on a platform to really start the year off great,” 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 in Mesa County rose seven-tenths of a point to
4.8 percent in January.

The jobless rate typically spikes in January to its highest level of the year in part because of layoffs following the holiday shopping season. The latest spike was lower, however, than the 5.6 percent unemployment rate posted for the same month last year.

For January 2018, Mesa County payrolls decreased 1,238 to 70,653. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 493 to 3,545. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, shrunk 745 to 74,198.

Over the past year, payrolls have grown 3,246 — or about 4.8 percent. The ranks of the unemployed have declined 438. The labor force has increased 2,808, but remains below the peak of 84,000 reached in 2009.

Englehart said he’s encouraged by growing payrolls and the labor force over the past year as well as other numbers that indicate improving conditions.

A total of 1,344 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center in January and February, Englehart said. Compared to the same two-month span last year, job orders have increased 42.2 percent, with increased job demand in the construction, health care and transportation sectors.

A total of 411 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in January and February, he said. That’s a 2.6 percent decrease from the same two months in 2017.

Meanwhile, 898 people were receiving jobless benefits in Mesa County in January, down 34.8 percent from the same month last year, Englehart said.

Given all the numbers, Englehart said he expects the jobless rate to retreat in Mesa County as labor conditions improve.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates also increased in neighboring Western Colorado counties in January, rising eight-tenths of a point to 4.8 percent in Delta County, 4.5 percent in Rio Blanco County and 4.2 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate rose six-tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in Garfield County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 3 percent as nonfarm payrolls increased 7,100, but the number of people looking for work increased 4,500. The largest job gains in January occurred in the construction; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has increased two-tenths of a point. The annual jobless rate of 2.8 percent for 2017 matched the record low for Colorado established in 2000.

Nonfarm payrolls have increased 67,400 over the past year, with the biggest gains in the construction, leisure and hospitality and professional and business services sectors.

The average workweek for Colorado employees on private, nonfarm payrolls edged up a tenth of an hour over the past year to 33.2 hours. Averagely hourly earnings increased 82 cents over the last year to $28.24.