Mesa County jobless rate takes a dip

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

The monthly unemployment rate in Mesa County has decreased even as payrolls and labor demand continue to increase.

Monthly jobless rates still could vary. But as long-term trends persist, the outlook for recovery improves, said Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction. “It will be a better forecast than many of the past few years.”

Suzie Miller

According to the latest estimates from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE), the seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate in Mesa County dipped to 9.3 percent in July, down two-tenths of a point from a revised 9.5 percent for June.

The monthly jobless rate has dropped in four out of seven months so far in 2012, but remained in a narrow band of just six-tenths of a point between a high of 9.6 percent in January and a low of 9 percent in May. At this time last year, the rate stood at 9.7 percent.

According to CDLE estimates, Mesa County payrolls rose 422 in July to 73,831. The number of people counted among those unsuccessfully looking for work edged down 114 to 7,753. The overall labor force, which includes the employed and unemployed, grew 308 to 81,394.

While Miller monitors month-to-month changes in the labor market, she pays even more attention to long-term trends. And those trends, she said, have been positive.

Over the past year, Mesa County payrolls have increased 2,947 and the overall labor force has grown 2,885.

Miller said Mesa County payrolls have grown more than 5,600 since the low point of employment in the midst of the recession. Still, that gain accounts for only about 44 percent of the difference in payrolls between the peak and trough.

Meanwhile, though, labor demand as measured by the number of job orders posted at the Mesa County Workforce Center has rebounded to its highest level since 2008, before the full effects of the recession took hold.

For July, 250 job orders were posted at the center, slightly ahead of the 242 orders posted in July 2008. Through Aug. 16, 1,907 job orders had been posted at the center this year, the highest number since 2008.

Each order usually involves two or three job openings, sometimes more. Increasing labor demand has been spread out among a number of occupational sectors, Miller said, including office and administration; installation, maintenance and repair; sales; and production.

The center has planned a three-day hiring event for Sept. 10 to 12 to help fill what are expected to be 100 to 120 positions at the T.J. Maxx scheduled to open in Grand Junction this fall. The discount clothing and accessories store will open in what was once a Borders book store in the Grand Mesa Center. Miller said she’s encouraged by the fact a national retailer is opening a location in Grand Junction. “You’ve got to look at that as a positive sign as well.”

While there’s still some unpredictability in the labor market, Miller expects monthly unemployment rates to eventually come down as they reflect long-term trends. “We sure hope so.”

Meanwhile, seasonally unadjusted unemployment rates constituted something of a mixed bag in neighboring Western Colorado counties in July: falling two-tenths to 7.9 percent in Garfield County and a tenth to 10.4 percent in Montrose County, but rising a tenth to 8.4 percent in Delta County and two-tenths to 5.8 percent in Rio Blanco County.

The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate edged up a tenth to

8.3 percent in July despite a gain of 4,500 nonfarm payroll jobs. The increase in the jobless rate was caused by a larger decline in the number of people reporting their status as employed than the decline in the number of people actively participating in the labor force.

Private-sector payrolls climbed 4,200 in July with gains in the leisure and hospitality, manufacturing and professional and business services sectors. Over the past year, nonfarm payrolls have increased 37,300 in Colorado.

The average workweek for employees on private nonfarm payrolls has increased an hour to 35.7 hours over the past year. Average hourly earnings have increased 93 cents to $24.68.