Mesa County jobless rate steady in February, but increases expected

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart

The monthly unemployment rate held steady in Mesa County during February, but likely will increase in coming months as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and government restrictions.

“The next four months are really going to be critical in telling us the outcome of the coronavirus outbreak for Mesa County,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

Englehart said he expects jobless rates to rise in March and April. He said he hopes rates retreat in May and June as the economy quickly recovers.

More will be known when the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment releases its March labor estimates on April 17. For now, the workforce center continues to offer services to employees and employers affected by the outbreak, he said.

For February, the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4.1 percent, according to the latest estimates from the CDLE. That rate remains below the 4.4 percent posted at this time last year.

For February 2020, Mesa County payrolls increased 1,143 to 73,437. But the number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work also increased — 80 to 3,166. The labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, increased 1,223 to 76,603.

Over the past year, payrolls increased 419 while the ranks of the unemployed decreased 174. The labor force edged up 245.

Labor demand as measured by the number of job openings posted at the workforce center increased in February, Englehart said. The 2,016 openings were more than double those for the same month last year.

Meanwhile 152 initial claims for unemployment benefits were filed in Mesa County in February, up from 125 for the same month last year, he said.

Since then, though, there have been layoffs and furloughs in the hospitality and retail sectors in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak and government restrictions on business operations and personal movement, Englehart said. A statewide order requiring people to stay at home except for exempted activities is scheduled to remain in place through April 11.

The workforce center has physically closed, but continues to provide services, he said. Employees and employers alike can call 248-7560 to schedule interviews with employment specialists and case managers. Additional information also is available online at www.mcwfc.us.

People should file claims for unemployment benefits through the website at www.colorado.gov/cdle. People whose last name begins with letters A through M can file claims on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday or after noon on Saturday. Those who’s last name begins with the letters N through Z should file claims on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or before noon on Saturday.

Englehart said efforts are under way to shortening the time in which claimants receive their first unemployment checks — from four to six weeks to seven to 10 days.

Seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates edged up in neighboring Western Colorado counties in February — up a tenth of a point to 4.2 percent in Delta County and 3.3 percent in Garfield County and two tenths of a point to 3.6 percent in Montrose County. The jobless rate held steady at 3.7 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady for a third straight month at 2.5 percent, the lowest level in Colorado for statistics going back to 1976. Nonfarm payrolls increased 3,100.

Over the past year, the state jobless rate dropped six-tenths of a point as nonfarm payrolls swelled 50,100. The biggest gains occurred in the professional and business services; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities sectors.

The average workweek for employees on private, nonfarm payrolls increased six-tenths of an hour to 33.7 hours. Average hourly earnings increased $1 to $30.95.