Mesa County Jobless Rate Spikes

Phil Castle, The Business Times
The unemployment rate in Mesa County has spiked in the aftermath of seasonal layoffs following the holidays.

While hiring is expected to pick back up as the weather warms, lower commodity prices have affected employment in the energy industry as well as other sectors.

“It’s just kind of the ripple effect,” said Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

According to the latest available estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County climbed three-tenths of a point to 5.7 percent in January.  “Historically, that’s what we see,” Englehart said.

The jobless rate typically spikes to its highest level of the year in the first month of the year because of layoffs following the holidays. For January 2015, the rate was even higher at 6.3 percent.

Englehart said he’s less concerned about the monthly jobless rate than a shrinking labor force in Mesa County.

For January, Mesa County payrolls decreased 896 to 66,869. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work increased 154 to 4,009. The overall work force — which includes the employed and unemployed — declined 742 to 70,878.

Over the past year, payrolls have slipped 31 even as the ranks of the unemployed have dropped 465. The overall work force has dropped 496 and remains nearly 16 percent below peak employment of 84,000 in November.

Englhart said low oil and natural gas prices have led to layoffs in the energy sector as well as sectors that provide services to the energy industry, including transportation.

For January, initial claims for unemployment insurance edged up 10 from December to 311. But the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits in Mesa County increased 404 to 1,781, Englehart said. For February, new filings for unemployment insurance rose to 334, he said.

Meanwhile, 410 job orders were posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center during January, up from 375 for the same month in 201, Englehart said. For February, though, 402 orders were posted at the center, down from 461 a year ago.

Labor statistics lag at the beginning of the year because of an annual process the state labor department goes through to review and revise numbers for previous years. February job numbers are scheduled to come out March 25.

Englehart said he expects the Mesa County unemployment rate to trend downward as construction, landscaping and hospitality businesses increase seasonal hiring.

Over the longer term, Englehart said he hopes efforts to address turnover and develop the work force through various training and skill certification programs will result in increase hiring in the manufacturing sector.

For Janaury, labor numbers constituted something of a mixed bag for neighboring Western Colorado counties. The seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a point to 3.7 percent in Garfield County and 4.7 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate held steady at 5.2 percent in Delta County and dropped four-tenths of a point to 4.7 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The satewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate retreated another three-tenths of a point to 3.2 percent in January.

Nonfarm payrolls increased 5,200 with gains in the business and professional services, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors.

Over the past year, the statewide jobless rate has dropped nine-tenths of a point to its lowest level since April 2001.

Nonfarm payrolls have increased 69,100 over the past year with increases in the leisure and hospitality, professional and business services and education and health services sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls has slipped two-tenths of an hour to 33.4 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 68 cents to $27.32.